Saskatchewan

U of S med students call on provincial health ministry for universal access to abortion pill

Members of the government affairs and advocacy committee at the University of Saskatchewan are calling on the government to provide universal access to the abortion pill Mifegymiso. 

Group says not providing access to pill violates Canada Health Act

Members of a Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan committee met with Health Minister Jim Reiter Thursday. Back row: Samuel Simonson, Shane Leyen, Regan Brownbridge. Front row: Alisha Beler, Lara Witt, McKayla Cozart. (Submitted by Lara Witt)

Members of the University of Saskatchewan Student Medical Society's government affairs and advocacy committee are calling on the government to provide universal access to the abortion pill Mifegymiso. 

They met with Health Minister Jim Reiter Thursday to present him with reasons they think the drug needs to be accessible to everyone in the province.

Access to this type of medication would mean not having to drive to Saskatoon or Regina to receive care.- Lara Witt, medical student

Every year, the committee has a day of action where it picks a topic that is "actionable and impactful" and meets with the provincial government to discuss potential policy changes. 

Lara Witt is a second-year medical student at the U of S. The group is passionate about women's health and reproductive rights, she said prior to their meeting with Reiter.

"We're going to give [the government] kind of a timeline and say, 'OK, we want to hear back on whether or not you've done any actions to make this happen before this time, and if not, we're going to start bugging you,'" she said.

Witt said many people in the province live in rural and remote areas, making it important that the drug be accessible.

"Access to this type of medication would mean not having to drive to Saskatoon or Regina to receive care," she said. 

Co-ordinating transport for people in rural areas takes time, Witt said. If they can't work something out in time, people may have to opt for surgical abortions instead.

After some review, the provincial government added the drug to its formulary last fall, making it eligible for cost coverage in 2017.

On its own, the ministry estimates the drug costs around $360.

How much of a prescription is covered by the province's drug plan differs from patient to patient, depending on the patient's income, with registered low-income earners being eligible for a $2 prescription. 

According to the province, 482 prescriptions for Mifegymiso have been provided to Saskatchewan residents. Of those, 138 were either fully or partially paid for by the provincial drug plan.

The student group said that by not providing access to medical abortion, but providing access to surgical abortion, the province is violating the tenet of universality in the Canada Health Act.

"That needs to be brought to their attention," Witt said.

"Residents who require immediate treatment with Mifegymiso and who are unable to cover their share of the cost may ask their pharmacist to access Emergency Assistance through the Saskatchewan Drug Plan," the Health Ministry wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"Minister Reiter had a productive meeting with the medical students, he values their input and will take their advice into consideration."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Pasiuk

Reporter

Emily Pasiuk is a reporter for CBC Edmonton who also covers news for CBC Saskatchewan. She has filmed two documentaries. Emily reported in Saskatchewan for three years before moving to Edmonton in 2020. Tips? Ideas? Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.

With files from Stephanie Taylor

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