The abortion pill will soon be available for free to people in every province, after the last two hold-outs , Manitoba and Saskatchewan, announced this week they would provide Mifegymiso for free.
On Friday, the government of Saskatchewan announced it would cover 100 per cent of the drug’s cost for residents, effective immediately. Earlier this week, the Manitoba government said it would also begin providing universal coverage for Mifegymiso, but did not specify when coverage would start. Premier Brian Pallister has hinted he may call an election in the province soon, which could throw the abortion-pill coverage into question.
This week, the Northwest Territories also announced it will fund Mifegymiso for people who don’t have another insurance plan. This leaves Nunavut as the only part of Canada without some form of abortion-pill coverage.
Mifegymiso has been around for decades, but only became available in Canada in 2017. Before that, anyone seeking an abortion had no choice but to travel to an abortion clinic, which are typically in large urban centres. This posed a major burden to people outside those areas. But the abortion pill can be prescribed by a doctor or, in some provinces, other primary care providers, meaning it offers the potential for much greater access to people across the country.
Abortion-rights advocates say the provincial coverage is crucial in allowing women greater access.
“We want to see everyone able to access an abortion in their own community,” said Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.
When Mifegymiso first became available in Canada, it was subject to onerous restrictions. For instance, doctors had to take a mandatory training course and people had to take the pill in the presence of their physician. Many of those rules were dropped in November, 2017.
But one rule that critics said hampered access remained in place until recently: the requirement for women to undergo an ultrasound in order to get a Mifegymiso prescription. In many parts of Canada where ultrasound machines aren’t readily available, the ultrasound requirement became a major barrier in accessing timely abortion care. In April, Health Canada announced that the ultrasound rule would be dropped. While it is still recommended that ultrasounds be performed to date pregnancies and rule out ectopic pregnancies – those growing outside the uterus – the rules now state they aren’t mandatory.
Despite the increased coverage and fewer restrictions, Mr. Prasad said some barriers remain in place. For instance, some people aren’t aware that Mifegymiso is available via prescription from a family doctor. He said advocates will continue working to overcome those challenges.