Eased restrictions on abortion pill not bringing accessibility to Manitoba: NDP

After Health Canada eased the restrictions on the abortion pill, Mifegymiso, the Manitoba New Democrats are asking when there will be better accessibility across the province.

Justice critic says rules ‘severely and unjustly discriminate against women and girls in northern communities’

Health Canada eased restrictions on the abortion pill Mifegymiso but the New Democrats in Manitoba say accessibility is still an issue. (CBC)

After Health Canada eased the restrictions on the abortion pill Mifegymiso, the Manitoba New Democrats are asking when there will be better accessibility across the province. 

Despite the easing of restrictions the abortion pill is currently only available free of charge in Winnipeg and Brandon. People outside of those locations have to pay upwards of $300. 

In question period on Wednesday, NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said the province's current regulations "severely and unjustly discriminate against women and girls in northern communities."

​Mifegymiso is a combination product containing two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in sequence to terminate a pregnancy. Advocates for the medication have said it will help make an abortion more accessible in Canada, especially for women in rural and remote areas who are currently forced to travel to find a provider.

On Tuesday, Health Canada announced changes to how the medication is prescribed and dispensed. The drug, initially known as RU-486, can now be dispensed directly to patients by a pharmacist or prescribing health professional. 

Women will also no longer be required to provide written consent to take Mifegymiso, nor will health professionals need to register with the drug's distributor, Celopharma, to prescribe or dispense it.

However Health Canada still requires a mandatory ultrasound to ensure patients don't have an ectopic pregnancy — one outside the uterus — and an assessment of the length of gestation.

Health Canada originally approved Mifegymiso in July 2015 and it sells for about $300.

Over the summer the Province of Manitoba announced it will be free of charge for patients as long as they go to Brandon Regional Health Centre, the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg or the Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg — where they also provide surgical abortions.

Outside of those places, the drug is not free and while it has become an eligible benefit under Pharmacare, those patients would still have to pay out of pocket unless they've met their Pharmacare deductible for the year or are on Employment and Income Assistance.

Province not doing enough: Fontaine

In question period, Rochelle Squires, the minister responsible for the status of women, said doctors and pharmacists are enabled and empowered to make decisions involving their patient care.

"It's a private conversation between a doctor and her patient," she said in response to a question about increasing accessibility. 

Fontaine said that's not doing enough, particularly when it's most difficult and expensive for Indigenous women and women in rural or isolated communities to get Mifegymiso.

"They are attempting to put in other obstacles in respect of accessibility for all Manitoba women and girls to the abortion pill and I think that is so egregious and it is such an affront to women and girls rights to our reproductive health," Fontaine said in an interview following question period.

While the Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg will provide drug next week, in an emailed statement executive director Theresa Oswald said "we are pleased with this decision as it will increase access to this important drug across Canada."

Kelvin Goertzen, Manitoba's Health Minister, did not respond to questions about Mifegymiso during question period. 


Kelly Malone


Kelly Geraldine Malone is a journalist based in Winnipeg. She worked for CBC Manitoba and was a University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs Fellow in Global Journalism 2016-17.

With files from the Canadian Press