Prince Edward Island does not have the worst access to abortion services in the country, despite being the only province not to provide the service, according to a new study.
'It could still be hundreds of miles for women to travel.' - Wendy Norman
The P.E.I. government pays for abortion services, as required by the Canada Health Act, but abortions are not performed on the Island. Typically Island women travel to Halifax for abortions, about a three and a half hour drive.
The P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization has been lobbying for in-province abortion services for three years.
Wendy Norman, chair in applied public health for both the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada, wrote the report, and found P.E.I. is notable as the only province without services. But Norman said women in some other parts of the country have to travel farther than three-and-a-half hours to get an abortion.
"There are places throughout Canada where people have to travel further,” she said.
“Clearly in the territories services are available in the more major centres which might be many hundreds of miles away for women to travel, and even within BC, although centres might be available in each of the five health authorities, it could still be hundreds of miles for women to travel.”
In Newfoundland and Labrador, abortion services are only available in St. John’s.
Health Canada still reviewing medical abortion drug
Norman says access for all Canadian women would be better if Health Canada approved the use of the oral medicine RU-486.
Health Canada began a review of RU-486 in December 2012, a process that usually takes about nine months. The department says it does not speculate on timing.
There are two drugs currently approved in Canada for a medical abortion, but Norman said only 4 per cent of Canadian women choose this option, because those drugs take longer to work than RU-486, have complications, and a lower success rate.
Norman said RU-486 has been in use in the United States and much of Europe for more than a decade.
"[In these places] nearly half of pregnancies under nine weeks, which is the range of pregnancy where this is available, are undertaken through medical abortion,” she said.
“When women have a choice they prefer to take a pill with their doctor than go and have surgery somewhere. It's so clear.”
The Abortion Rights Network on P.E.I. says one doctor was prescribing the two pills available for medical abortions, but due to high demand after this option was reported on CBC News women are now being turned away.