Women’s health advocates have hailed the abortion pill as the key to eliminating barriers to abortion in Canada because it can be prescribed by a family doctor and taken at home, no matter where a woman lives. Yet, nearly two years after Mifegymiso became available, many women still have to travel to abortion clinics, endure lengthy waits and pay out-of-pocket if they want to use it to end their pregnancies.
Prescribing data provided to The Globe and Mail show large regional disparities in access to the abortion pill, which the World Health Organization says is a safe and effective method of terminating pregnancies in the first nine weeks. In Manitoba, where nearly 4,000 abortions are performed every year, no prescriptions for Mifegymiso have been dispensed from retail pharmacies since it came on the market, according to the data. But in Ontario, which has about 40,000 abortions every year, more than 6,600 prescriptions were dispensed last year and this year, up to August, 2018.
The figures, provided by IQVIA, a pharmaceutical analytics firm, don’t reflect prescriptions dispensed from abortion clinics. But low numbers in provinces such as Manitoba suggest that for some women, getting a prescription from a family doctor and having it filled at a local pharmacy are a challenge.
Barriers to abortion in Canada are complex and vary by region, according to women’s health advocates, who say timely access to abortions is important. Delays can affect the type of abortion a woman can receive – Mifegymiso can only be prescribed to women in the first nine weeks of pregnancy – and waiting also exposes women to pregnancy-related symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, stress and anxiety.
“This is a medical procedure that should happen in a short window of time. It impacts health if you wait,” said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion with Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, an Ottawa-based advocacy group. “There are piecemeal efforts made, but a systemic strategy must come from the public health system.”