Historically, women's health in Saskatchewan and elsewhere was not a separate area of practice or research. When women's health was considered, it was generally in the context of healthcare as a whole, or narrowly focused on maternal, reproductive, and babies' health. The social and women's movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s precipitated changes in women's consciousness regarding health care; it was out of these movements that the importance of addressing women's specific health care needs emerged. Beginning in the 1970s, gender differences between men's and women's health were recognized and researched as an important determinant of health. Today, many local health districts and regions in Saskatchewan do provide specific women's health programs and services.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, isolation, cultural practices, financial problems, and a lack of doctors often meant that midwives and experienced older women were called upon to deliver babies and provide care for women in their homes. During the 1920s and 1930s, efforts to improve care for women continued to focus largely upon women as mothers. Concern about high maternal - and infant - mortality rates led to efforts to reduce them; improvements included assistance grants to women in need, pre-natal education and care, and increased medical competency. As well, most women (unless they lived in very isolated regions) gave birth in hospitals by the 1950s.
During the 1960s focus shifted, and birth control became a central issue. Prior to 1969, women in Canada could not legally obtain information on, or prescriptions for, artificial birth control. The public distribution of birth control information and sale of contraceptives was legalized in 1969; abortion, however, was still left in the Criminal Code. In 1970 a large-scale Abortion Caravan travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa to demand the decriminalization of abortion; a contingent from Saskatchewan, members of Women's Action Community Health Care (WACH) participated. In 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that the federal abortion law, which had seriously restricted women's access to abortion services, was unconstitutional, and struck down the provisions of the criminal code pertaining to abortion. In July 1992 the Women's Health Centre, an outpatient clinic at the Regina General Hospital, began providing a variety of services about reproductive choices to women. Already in existence, Planned Parenthood (incorporated in Regina in 1986 and later in Saskatoon) was providing education, birth control, and information about sexually transmitted diseases as well as unplanned pregnancy options.
Specific health needs of women, other than reproduction, began to receive attention from Saskatchewan's Regional Health Authorities and non-profit women's groups. Separate mental health services for women were offered, as well as information presentations on a wide array of issues affecting women (e.g., menopause, eating disorders, breast-feeding, sexually transmitted diseases). A provincewide mammography screening program for breast cancer funded by the provincial government through the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency began in 1990. In 2002 the Prevention Program for Cervical Cancer was started, followed later by bone density testing programs for women. In 1972, the Canadian Cancer Society established “Reach for Recovery” programs across Canada. Breast Cancer Action Saskatchewan, a provincially based, non-profit group was established in 1994 to make the lives of those affected by breast cancer more manageable through advocacy, education, support, and networking.
In 1996, as part of a national strategy to address women's health, the federal government established five research centres across Canada. The Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence (PWHCE) was established in 1997 to focus on community-based research, policy advice, and social factors to promote women's and girls' health and well-being in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Concern about not only the physical but also the mental health of women was expressed in attention to abuse-related issues. The Provincial Association of Transition Houses of Saskatchewan (PATHS), a non-profit organization providing services to abused women and their children, was formed in 1984. PATHS brought together Transition and Interval Houses, temporary emergency shelters, and second-stage housing under a provincial umbrella.
Since the 1970s women's groups from across Saskatchewan have provided specialized information and services on many areas of women's health. The DisABLED Women's Network of Saskatchewan promotes self-help for disabled women. Immigrant Women of Saskatchewan, located in Regina and Saskatoon, provides resources to newly arrived women from other countries. Lesbian health information is provided by Gay and Lesbian Services located across the province. Aboriginal and Métis women's groups focus on a wide range of counseling, family and health services for women. There are also groups that specifically offer information and services for young women, sex-trade workers, women living in poverty, those affected with HIV/AIDS, and rural women across the province of Saskatchewan.