Abortion pill popular alternative to surgery, says owner of St. John's clinic

The owner of a private abortion clinic says she expects an abortion pill to become increasingly popular as an alternative to surgery.

MUN medical students lobby provincial government to provide coverage of Mifegymiso

Rolanda Ryan owns the Athena clinic in St. John's and says 35 women have taken abortion pill Mifegymiso through her clinic, but she expects usage to increase. (CBC)

The owner of a private abortion clinic in St. John's says she expects an abortion pill to become increasingly popular as an alternative to surgery.

Rolanda Ryan of the Athena Health Centre says 35 people have taken Mifegymiso, which has been available for just over a year from her clinic, and she expects to see a lot more interest in coming years.

"I believe it will become very popular," she said. "In Alberta, for example, they're now up to about 40 per cent of women take the abortion pill, and 60 [per cent] have surgical options."

Pill more private but takes longer

The pill is available for up to nine weeks of gestation. Health Canada approves a surgical option for up to 23 weeks, but in Newfoundland it's 15 weeks.

The pill can be taken at home, said Ryan.

It shouldn't cost them any money out of pocket. I do think government should step in and make some sort of plan for payment.- Rolanda Ryan

"The first pill stops the pregnancy, and the second set of pills actually causes your uterus to contract and expel it. It's more private. It's more natural. It feels more like a miscarriage," she said.

"The surgical abortion — you come in, you have a procedure done, it takes about half a day to have it done from the time you come in to when you leave. The procedure itself is four to seven minutes long, and when you leave, you know you're no longer pregnant, so it's done and over with."

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province that doesn't provide some coverage of Mifegymiso, says Ryan. (Submitted by Celopharma)

There's more bleeding and cramping with the pill, and it's a longer process, said Ryan.

Ryan said women should have access to abortion care, whether it's medical or surgical.

"It shouldn't cost them any money out of pocket," she said. "I do think government should step in and make some sort of plan for payment. Right now, most people's insurances cover it, so I think that's a conversation we really have to have," she said.

"For the women who have insurance and it is covered, perhaps there's a different payment plan for those women. But yes, I do think that it should be free to women to be able to access either form of termination of pregnancy that they choose."

Government considering coverage

Students at Memorial University's medical school are lobbying the government to cover the roughly $300-cost of the pill. Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada that doesn't provide at least some coverage.

An emailed statement from the Department of Health on behalf of Minister John Haggie said the meeting with MUN's medical students went very well.

"We are considering coverage of Mifegymiso and ways to improve access to this drug. We are watching what is happening across the country and working to determine the most appropriate coverage model," said the statement.