Canadian clinics and hospitals performing fewer abortions, data suggests

Patient's bed is empty in hospital. Getty Images/ File Photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this Canadian Press story said the figures do not include cases where the abortion pill was taken. This story has been updated to clarify that researchers don’t know whether the data reflects use of the abortion pill.

TORONTO — New data suggests the number of abortions performed in Canada’s hospitals and clinics declined significantly in 2018.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information says clinics and hospitals reported 85,195 induced abortions that year — down 8,835 from the 94,030 procedures reported in 2017.

The findings continued a downward trend seen in previous years, but was more than twice the drop seen between 2016 and 2017 when the number fell by 3,734.

In 2016, the 97,764 reported abortions was 2,340 fewer than those reported in 2015.

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The most recent drop coincides with the arrival of the abortion pill Mifegymiso which hit the Canadian market in 2017, but CIHI researchers said it was not possible to know how many of the reported cases involved the drug.

The pro-choice group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights suggested Mifegymiso could at least partly explain the numbers, since any family doctor can prescribe the drug and women can take it in the privacy of their own home.

“That was the period of time over which Mifegymiso became available,” says Laura Neidhart, director of communications.

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“Your OBGYN and many places would be able to prescribe Mifegymiso so you wouldn’t even be going into an abortion provider-setting.”

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Most of the procedures reported — 80 per cent — were surgically induced abortions, while 11.8 per cent involved both surgical and medical procedures.

Seven per cent were described as medically induced abortions, which involve pills but no surgery.

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Another factor could be that several barriers to abortion services persist, especially for people living outside urban centres, says Neidhart.

She pointed to a paper the group published last November called “Access at a Glance” that found wide provincial variation in the number of abortion providers and the services they provided.

CIHI researchers said the data has several limitations making it difficult to draw conclusions or compare regions.

For one thing, the clinical data — which amounts to more than half the numbers — does not include information from New Brunswick. Unlike hospitals, clinics are not obligated to report all procedures and only do so voluntarily.

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In 2018, clinics reported 58,697 induced abortions, or 69 per cent of the total reported that year. That was a similar ratio to numbers seen in previous years.

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There were also inconsistencies in the way data was reported.

For instance, data from Manitoba and Ontario clinics only include abortions covered by provincial health insurance.

And patients who are covered by Quebec’s insurance plan but receive care in Alberta are reported by Alberta.

Meanwhile, patients who are covered by Alberta’s insurance plan but receive care in Quebec are not reported by either province.

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