'Equity issue:' Saskatchewan to fully cover cost of abortion drug Mifegymiso
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, June 7, 2019 12:11PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 7, 2019 5:38PM EDT
REGINA -- Advocates are celebrating the Saskatchewan government's decision to fully fund the cost of the abortion drug Mifegymiso which means the treatment is now covered across Canada.
Frederique Chabot, a director with Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said Saskatchewan is the last province to introduce universal coverage of the two-pill drug combination, which was first approved by Health Canada in 2015.
"This was not just about a medication getting covered," she said Friday. "It was about addressing an equity issue across the country."
Manitoba announced last week that it would be covering the drug.
Mifegymiso induces the termination of a pregnancy in the early stages. It can cost as much as $350 if a patient doesn't qualify for provincial drug coverage or have private insurance.
Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter said the decision to pay for the drug followed a recommendation he received from officials he had tasked with reviewing its coverage. That was done in response to requests from medical students at the University of Saskatchewan.
Chabot and other advocates see the drug as an opportunity to improve access to abortion services in rural areas.
"Cost has been one of the biggest prohibiting factors ... because they have (had) to travel into one of their urban centres, take time off work," said Samuel Simonson, a medical student at the University of Saskatchewan.
"Now that we have that coverage in their own community, we'll be able to provide abortion for them without barriers -- the way it should be."
Reiter said Mifegymiso provides a "less invasive" way of terminating a pregnancy than a surgical procedure.
But the issue of abortion access didn't factor into the ministry's recommendation on Mifegymiso, which was the basis for his decision, he said.
"Frankly, it was accessible. It was accessible all along as far as availability, as far as getting a prescription. The issue simply was who's going to pay for it?" said Reiter.
The NDP Opposition said the government faced pressure to fund the drug because it was one of the last in Canada to do so.
"His head is in the sand if he thinks access isn't an issue," NDP member Vicki Mowat said.
The NDP also raised concerns that while Mifegymiso coverage was under review, Rural Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit told an anti-abortion group in his Yorkton-area constituency that he would "continue the fight."
Reiter acknowledged abortion is a divisive issue.
"Federal law has made it very clear that abortion needs to be provided. This is simply, I'd say, a less invasive way of doing that," he said.
"I hope folks understand these are the kind of issues that not everybody's going to agree on."
Chabot hopes full-cost coverage means more pharmacies in Saskatchewan will start stocking Mifegymiso on their shelves.
In April, The Canadian Press contacted more than 80 community pharmacies across the province and the majority reported the drug was not in stock.
Some pharmacies said Mifegymiso is usually ordered as needed and could be brought in within a day. Others reported there was no inventory available to do so.
"We've seen in many places that when (drug-induced) abortion is more accessible, it does change the makeup of what kind of services people access," said Chabot. "There might be a surge in demand."
In British Columbia, which fully covers Mifegymiso, women are terminating pregnancies with the drug at much higher rates than before, she said.
Chabot said Health Canada's approval of Mifegymiso several years ago sparked a national discussion about abortion and showed how access can be uneven.
"It's not as easy to access as people think it is."