British Columbia

Victoria women's health clinic calls for abortion pill coverage

A pill for medical abortions was approved for use in Canada in January, but clinic director Dawn Fowler says B.C. is the only province without universal coverage for the cost of the pill through the public health plan.

'We're on it': B.C. health minister responds to complaints of limited access to drug

Mifegymiso, the brand name for the two-drug treatment that ends pregnancy, became available in Canada in 2017. (CBC)

Lack of provincial coverage for a recently approved abortion pill is pushing women to choose surgery for ending unwanted pregnancies, according to the head of a Victoria-area clinic.

Dawn Fowler, the executive director of the Vancouver Island Women's Clinic, said British Columbia is the only province that does not cover the cost of Mifegymiso.

"If they decide they want to terminate a pregnancy, then price becomes a factor," Fowler told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

"Some women are accessing it quite easily, but the issue is we don't have universal coverage," Fowler said. For some women, the cost is covered by employment health benefits, but those without private benefits must pay for the pill which costs about $350.

Mifegymiso, known as RU-486 outside of Canada, is a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. After years of study, Health Canada approved its use as a non-surgical option for abortion up to seven weeks.

The drug became available to the Canadian public in January.

Pill reduces demand, cost of surgery

Fowler said Mifegymiso is recognized as the "gold standard" for medical termination of pregnancies. In provinces where it is available without cost through the public health plan, she said, nearly 50 per cent of women choose it over a surgical abortion. 

She said the medical abortion also saves the health system money over expensive surgery and reduces pressure on hospital operating room schedules. 

Fowler said the clinic has written B.C. Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix about Medical Services Plan coverage for Mifegymiso. 

A doctor gives a woman the RU486 pill at the family planning department of Hopital Broussais, 25 October 2000. (Manoocher Deghati/AFP/Getty)

On Tuesday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the NDP government has heard the concerns about access to the drug and is planning improvements as part of a broader women's health strategy. 

"The new government came into office with some new perspectives on this issue," Dix said. "We're on it."

Universal coverage for Mifegymiso is under consideration, Dix said outside the legislature. He said the government is also reviewing concerns that, in some regions, the drug is only dispensed at hospital formularies instead of in doctor's offices. 

"The issue of expanding access is to ensure that people have access, not just in a hospital setting, but across British Columbia, and that's what we're working on right now," Dix said.

With files from Megan Thomas and On the Island