The GNWT will now provide the abortion pill Mifegymiso to residents without full prescription coverage, a June 4 news release announced.
Administered under the Northern Options for Women (NOW) program, which is only active in Yellowknife and Inuvik, the prescription terminates pregnancies of up to nine weeks.
In November, the GNWT announced it would cover the drug’s cost for uninsured residents, but barriers remained for the partially insured and residents outside of NOW’s coverage area.
“Real access to reproductive health care is an issue of equity and so, it’s great news that the government acted to address gaps. The measures put in place will ensure that people who didn’t have coverage can now access the abortion pill more readily,” Frederique Chabot, director of health and promotion for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights stated in an email to News/North last week.
“We will continue the work with our partners in NWT to support their work on the ground to make sexual and reproductive health care more accessible everywhere, including in remote communities.”
The news release stated that the Department of Health and Social Services and the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority are working to expand NOW’s area of coverage. Meanwhile, the department said it will cover the medical travel costs for residents outside of Yellowknife and Inuvik.
“Coverage for travel costs is imperative in the North and so continuing coverage is key to ensure timely access to abortion care,” Chabot stated.
In April, Health Canada pulled the ultrasound dating requirement to prescribe Mifegymiso.
The ultrasound requirement was the last major restriction on the pill, said Chabot last November.
“However, this change does not eliminate the need for health care providers to know the accurate date of the pregnancy, or change other necessary requirements to minimize patient risk with taking this drug,” the June 4 news release stated.
“For example, a person must have access to emergency medical treatment for two weeks after taking the drug in case of serious complications.”
Without an ultrasound machine in their community, women receiving treatment have faced increased privacy concerns and complications when travelling and organizing care for family and children.
“If you’re in one of the last few hold out regions, it’s not as accessible as if you were in any part of the country. It creates a two-tiered health care that is unjust,” Chabot told News North last November.
At the time, advocates took exception to insurance delaying the time-sensitive medical procedure in a letter to Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy and Premier Bob McLeod. Costs for the pill series can also run from $300 to $450, which priced some residents out of use.
Following the news, Chabot said the next step is wider participation of healthcare providers.
“Now that the Health Canada restrictions are lifted, we also hope to continue to see health care providers, family doctors, nurse practitioners, midwives, pharmacists, in all communities integrate medical abortion into their practice.
“Their participation is key to ensure widespread access,” Chabot said.