Following Yukon, N.W.T. commits to funding 'abortion pill'

Health Minister Glen Abernethy committed to funding Mifegymiso, commonly called the 'abortion pill,' in response to MLA's questions in the legislature Thursday.

Mifegymiso prescriptions will be covered for those with no other insurance

Mifegymiso is a combination of two drugs that can terminate a pregnancy of up to nine weeks. It was approved for use in Canada in 2015. The cost per dosage is about $300. (Linepharma International)

Following the Yukon's lead, the N.W.T. will cover the cost of Mifegymiso, commonly known as the "abortion pill," for individuals with no other insurance.

Minister of Health and Social Services Glen Abernethy made the announcement in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday in response to questions from MLA Julie Green.

"Basically, low income families, or low income workers who don't have insurance will be covered when this directive goes into place," said Abernethy.

Green's questions were prompted by an announcement Wednesday that the Yukon would cover the cost of the drug.

Abernethy said the department is currently reviewing prescription funding across the board, but recognized that waiting for the review to be finished "could be problematic for many women."

Basically, low income families, or low income workers who don't have insurance will be covered when this directive goes into place.- Minister Glen Abernethy

"I've issued a directive to the department… to put in some interim measures to cover the treatment," said Abernethy.

Mifegymiso is a combination of two drugs that can terminate a pregnancy of up to nine weeks. It was approved for use in Canada in 2015. The cost per dosage is about $315. Since it became available, the pill has been prescribed 23 times in the territory, according to the Department of Health. 

It's significantly cheaper than the cost of a surgical abortion, which can cost upwards of $1,400. The health department says that in 2017, 226 surgical abortions were performed in the territory.

In the N.W.T., the territorial government will act as an insurer "of last resort," meaning individuals not covered through other health benefits programs will be paid for.

Many Indigenous residents are already insured under the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program or through Métis health benefits.

Health Minister Glen Abernethy committed to funding Mifegymiso, commonly called the 'abortion pill,' in response to MLA's questions in the legislature Thursday. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Not available in most communities

Currently, Mifegymiso is only available in Yellowknife and Inuvik. Community health centres can refer patients to Stanton Territorial Hospital to receive the treatment through the Northern Options for Women program.

In the legislature, Green asked Abernethy when communities could expect to get access to the treatment.

"There has been progress, but not enough," said Abernethy. Doctors in communities are unable to perform the diagnostic tests needed to prescribe the pill, he added.

Abernethy did commit to having the interim directive in place before the territorial election next fall.

"I wanted this… issue resolved as quickly as possible," he said.