Provinces making women pay for the cost of getting an abortion at private clinics are violating the Canada Health Act, federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor has warned her provincial counterparts.
In a letter shared Wednesday with the provincial health ministers, Petitpas Taylor said women in Canada continue to face barriers in accessing abortion and that the provinces must work to eliminate those, chiefly the costs being charged to women outside of hospital settings and lack of access to the abortion pill.
Specifically, the letter urges the provinces to find solutions to the limited numbers of medical professionals willing to prescribe the abortion pill to their patients, something advocacy groups have flagged as a major barrier to women in small and remote communities.
“I remain concerned about continued barriers to access to abortion across the country,” writes Taylor in the letter, a copy of which was shared with Global News.
“I am troubled by reports that some patients may be facing unnecessary barriers or delays in receiving these medically necessary services. I am concerned as well about the practice of limiting coverage to hospital settings, with some patients facing charges for surgical abortion services provided in private clinics.
“Such charges for a publicly insured service are contrary to the Canada Health Act.”
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Her letter comes after a series of reports by media outlining the continued barriers women in Canada face in accessing abortion.
The Globe and Mail recently detailed how a large number of Canadians doctors appear to be wary of being viewed as abortion providers and will not prescribe the abortion pill to patients, forcing women to drive hours and rely on word of mouth to seek out doctors who will.
That report also flagged cases of Ontario and New Brunswick not fully covering the cost of surgical abortions that take place in clinics.
Global News also reported in May how dozens of Canadian women are being forced to go south for abortions they are unable to access domestically.
Ontario has sent more than 100 women to the United States for abortions since 2014, and covers the cost of the out-of-country procedure when it has been deemed medically necessary and unavailable in Canada.
Generally that happens in cases where there are long wait times, a lack of doctors trained to perform abortions, or in cases where doctors are unwilling to perform abortions past roughly 20 weeks of gestation.
Even in the case of medical abortions using the two-pill combination Mifegymiso, access remains a significant barrier for Canadian women, something Health Canada has addressed in repeated removals of restrictions originally imposed on doctors wanting to prescribe it to women seeking abortions.
Those lifted restrictions included very tight tight limits on when the pill could be used, a requirement for physicians to undergo a training seminar before being able to prescribe, and a requirement for ultrasounds to be performed before it could be prescribed.