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Saskatchewan approves universal coverage for abortion pill

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WATCH: Saskatchewan will now provide full coverage for Mifegymiso, a medical abortion drug, following a review that saw some controversy. David Baxter reports – Jun 7, 2019

Saskatchewan will now provide 100 per cent coverage for Mifegymiso for residents covered by the province’s drug plan, effective immediately.

Mifegymiso is the first oral early pregnancy termination medication approved by Health Canada.

READ MORE: Mifegymiso cost analysis to be considered in Sask. universal coverage review

Saskatchewan is the final jurisdiction in Canada to offer universal coverage for the pill, which cost more than $300 retail. Until this week, Saskatchewan and Manitoba were the lone provinces not to offer universal coverage.

Manitoba announced they were also moving to universal coverage on June 1.

The move comes following advocacy from a group of University of Saskatchewan medical students including Lara Witt, who was very excited to hear the news Friday morning. She said this is huge for increasing access to women’s reproductive health options.

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“Previously, the only two places where one could get an abortion in Saskatchewan were Saskatoon and Regina. That meant anywhere else, you’d have to drive from your home community all the way to those centres,” Witt said.

“A lot of the time, people would have to drive all the way to the centres and go through approximately a million referrals before actually going through the procedure itself. So even if they did want to pay upfront for a medical [abortion], a lot of the time they would be referred, referred, referred to the point where it would be too late.”

Mifegymiso can be prescribed in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

READ MORE: Many Saskatchewan pharmacies not stocking abortion drug Mifegymiso

Witt added that the medical abortion the drug allows is much less invasive then a surgical abortion.

“That is actually cheaper for the province. It’s a bit safer, because it’s not a full-blown surgical procedure, and it’s a little bit more private for that woman. She can do it in her home community in her house,” Witt said.

According to written analysis from Dr. Megan Clark at the Women’s Health Centre in Regina, these medical abortions save the province around $450 per procedure. If Mifegymiso was used for the 93 abortions the centre provided last year in the drug’s effective time frame, it would have saved $42,000 at the publicly funded facility. This was submitted to the Ministry of Health as part of their review.

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Health Minister Jim Reiter said he received the recommendation to approve universal coverage from his staff earlier this week. He said no one factor lead the decision; with it being a combination of cost, access, and what other provinces are doing.

“Medical procedures are not the kind of decisions you necessarily want politicians making, so politicians need to look to medical professionals and officials for advice. That’s why right from the start we were going to ask the ministry to review it and in all likelihood follow their advice,” Reiter said

While the universal coverage review was ongoing, controversy arose after Saskatchewan’s Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit said he would “continue the fight” while speaking at a pro-life event in Yorkton, his home constituency. Ottenbreit said his views would not affect the coverage decision.

READ MORE: Rural and remote health minister says pro-life views won’t affect abortion pill policy

“There were a lot of questions about whether ideology was running the show and whether healthcare access would be provided along with what their jobs should be,” NDP health critic Vicki Mowat said.

Mowat described the work as a group effort to pressure the government to get to this approval, and thanked those involved. Like Witt, Mowat sees it as a way to broaden access to women’s reproductive health care.

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Reiter said he didn’t view access as an issue before this. Mifegymiso had been available in Saskatchewan since 2017, with varying degrees of coverage based on insurance and social programs for people with low income.

On anti-abortion beliefs in the Saskatchewan Party caucus and cabinet, Reiter said the stance of the government is to follow federal law and provide abortion access.

“This is a very divisive issue. It’s not going to be an issue you can make everyone happy,” Reiter said.

“This is simply I’d say a less invasive way of doing that, and I hope people understand., these are kind of issues not everyone is going to agree on. The decision is landed on now and we’re going to move forward.”

With files from Global News’ Ryan Kessler.

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