As provincial, territorial and Indigenous leaders meet this week for the Council of the Federation, access to abortion and reproductive health should be top of mind.
In July of 2015, after one of its lengthiest drug approval processes on record, Health Canada approved the abortion pill Mifegymiso. The pill has the potential to provide access in Canada where there is none, but barriers remain. Without cost coverage by provincial/territorial health plans, restrictions like the pill’s $300-$450 price tag mean it is out of reach for many, especially in rural and remote parts of Canada.
To date, only four of Canada’s provinces have committed to cost coverage: Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick and Ontario. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (Action Canada), Alberta Society for the Promotion of Sexual Health (ASPSH) and the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition are the organizers of the shadow event, asking provinces, territories and federal programs (including First Nations Inuit Health Branch) to commit to cost coverage by November 2017, before the Canadian Health Ministers Summit.
“There is no excuse for provinces who haven’t yet committed to cost coverage of the abortion pill. Without universal cost coverage, access to abortion in Canada remains piecemeal. Access to abortion shouldn’t depend on your postal code, income bracket or Indigenous status,” says Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (Action Canada). Adding that “cost coverage of Mifegymiso is the only way to ensure we don’t create two-tiered access to abortion in Canada.”
Abortion has been legal in Canada for nearly three decades, yet many seeking the service don’t have access. Only 1 in 6 hospitals provide abortion services in Canada, the majority of which, like free standing sexual health clinics, are disproportionately dispersed across Canada, with most located in urban areas.
New Brunswick is the only province that has released its cost coverage rollout plan. “We anticipate implementation from the other three provinces soon, but time is sensitive when it comes to abortion services. We need to see rollout from all provinces, territories and federal plans within the next year,” says Prasad.
There are also restrictions that still need to be tackled by Health Canada. Among other unnecessary restrictions, physician-only dispensing is a significant barrier. “We are constantly hearing from physicians, nurses, pharmacists and midwives asking that Mifegymiso be added to the list of drugs that Nurse Practitioners and midwives are allowed to dispense. This could be a gamechanger, especially in rural and remote areas with limited access to physicians,” says Prasad.
Now is the time for provincial, territorial and Indigenous leaders to take a stand. Barriers to abortion continue to deny women and trans folks in Canada their right to essential health services and the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
ACTION CANADA FOR SEXUAL HEALTH & RIGHTS is a progressive, pro-choice charitable organization committed to advancing and upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally. For more information, visit www.actioncanadashr.org