A pro-choice organization in Canada says that even if Saskatchewan's next premier wanted to restrict abortion access in the province, they couldn't.

5 out of 10 for abortion access in Sask

Natalya Mason works with the Saskatoon Sexual Health Centre and gives Saskatchewan a five out of 10 rating for the ability of people to access abortion services in the province.

She said because the procedure is only offered in Saskatoon and Regina, it creates a huge barrier for women living in rural or remote areas of the province.

"I think we're still failing a lot of people," she said. "Any distance from those centres makes access quite difficult because you're having to pay for transportation and then additionally, with the closure of the STC bus line, we're also now having difficulty getting clients from Saskatoon to Regina if they are beyond 12 weeks."

She said besides the financial burden of travelling and having to take time off work, there's not enough access to Mifegymiso, or the "abortion pill," which is listed under the provincial drug plan but not free of charge.

 

"Essentially provinces don't have the choice to become anti-choice," says Darrah Teitel, public affairs officer for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. "The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is clear, so is the Canada Health Act, which includes abortion as a medical service and so is international law around non-discrimination and reproductive rights."

Teitel said any move to strip existing abortion services of funding would contravene federal law. 

However, Teitel listed examples where access to abortion was restricted in other provinces.

She said that until recently in Nova Scotia, a woman seeking an abortion was required to be referred by a doctor —known as the two-doctor rule — while women living on Prince Edward Island went without abortion services for more than three decades.

New Brunswick has also faced criticism for not funding abortions at private clinics.

Ken Cheveldayoff, ranked as the number one candidate by the anti-abortion group Right Now, and Scott Moe, billed as the group's second pick, have both confirmed they have no intention to introduce anti-abortion legislation.

Ken Rassmussen

University of Regina politics professor Ken Rasmussen says it's ironic that Sask. Party candidates are not differing from Brad Wall on a majority of issues except abortion. (CBC News)

Pandering for Brad Trost voters

Number of abortions paid for by the province of Saskatchewan:

  • April 1, 2017 to the most current date:1,400 surgical and medical abortions. (including 173 performed out-of-province, mostly in Alberta).

  • April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017: 1,803 (267 performed out-of-province, mostly in Alberta).

  • April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016: 1,967 (292 performed out-of-province, mostly in Alberta).

(Numbers provided by the Ministry of Health)

But why, as a candidate, engage in the debate in the first place? A political scientist who teaches at the University of Regina says it comes down to votes.

"There is certainly a caucus in the party, a group of voters, that are motivated by this issue, the Brad Trost voters, if you will," said Ken Rasmussen. "It's definitely a constituency within the party that they have to consider."

While abortion is an issue that garners little reaction in the general public, he said, it can play a more prominent role in a leadership race, which is appealing to a more select group of individuals — people who joined the party who are committed to various causes.

Ken Cheveldayoff

A political scientist thinks Ken Cheveldayoff is trying to appeal to Brad Trost-style voters. (CBC News)

10 "abortion pill" prescriptions covered by province 

The Saskatchewan Drug Plan began covering Mifegymiso on Sept. 5, 2017.

The cost varies patient to patient, depending on their income and enrolment in other benefit programs, as well as private insurance coverage. 

The Ministry of Health says it has provided eligible coverage on 10 prescriptions, noting doses prescribed in hospital, out of province, Health Canada's Indigenous health branch or dispensed in a private clinic are not counted in the data.

"Cheveldayoff is making a gamble that there are enough voters within the party that are going to support his position to push him over the top," said Rasmussen. "It may indicate that the election is much closer than we think."

Kelly Gordon has studied the strategies utilized by the anti-abortion movement in Canada.

She said it's difficult to determine how effective tactics such as the one employed by Right Now are on campaigns, but said it helps "raise the profile" of the issue.

Frustration and disappointment

Natalya Mason, an education and outreach coordinator with the Saskatoon Sexual Health Centre, said she felt both frustration and disappointment when hearing the statements made about the issue this week.

"There are a number of anti-choice, pro-life groups who have very loud voices and they are the ones that are often bringing this issue up, especially during leadership races," she said.

"It was not surprising that the candidates expressing those views were male. Abortion isn't likely an issue that is going to have an impact on their own personal life, health or safety, so not having a full understanding of its importance."