N.S. makes abortion pill available for free

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is overhauling its abortion policies, making the abortion pill available at no cost and removing the requirement for a physician’s referral to obtain a surgical abortion.

The province has been criticized as having some of Canada’s biggest abortion-access barriers, and Premier Stephen McNeil said Friday the changes are about providing women with the health care options they deserve.

McNeil, who is Roman Catholic, said he is comfortable with the decisions as a parent of a daughter who “deserves to have access to health care.”

“She has the right to make a decision for herself and my job is to love my daughter if she so chooses to make a decision on her health,” he said.

McNeil was asked whether he thought it would be a tough sell to certain segments of the public.

“It’s not a question about selling, it’s about doing what’s right and we believe women deserve access to this health care and we will do so.”

The government’s announcement was made by Kelly Regan, the minister responsible for the status of women, who said the province would make Mifegymiso available by prescription starting in November.

The drug combination can medically terminate an early pregnancy of up to 49 days.

“This is important for me because I believe and this government believes in the reproductive rights of women,” said Regan.

Women with a valid health card and prescription will be able to get the $350 drug for free at pharmacies, at a cost to the province of between $175,000 and $200,000 per year.

“Women will now be able to get the entire cost of it covered,” said Regan. “If they already have a health benefits plan we would ask them to use that and then any remainder the government will cover. If they don’t have a health plan we will cover that cost.”

Regan said out-of-province students who are covered through university health plans will be able to access the service, although there are no plans at this time to cover residents who do not have a provincial health card as is done in Alberta.

She said the province is also removing the requirement for a physician’s referral to obtain a surgical abortion, allowing women to refer themselves to the unit at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. Nova Scotia has been the only province in Canada requiring women to obtain a referral.

“They will be able to self-refer for these services in the future,” she said.

Melanie Mackenzie, who came forward to The Canadian Press last month to describe her difficulties obtaining an abortion in Nova Scotia, said she’s relieved the government has waived the referral rule.

“It gives women the option of getting an abortion without having to jump through hoops,” she said. “The shame and stigma of being doubted by the medical community was extremely difficult.”

MacKenzie said it was hard becoming the “poster child” for abortion issues in Nova Scotia, and that she’s faced some “negative repercussions.”

But she said she’s been heartened by the number of women who have reached out to her to share their own stories, and that the province is improving access to abortion services.

Kim Munroe, the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s director of ambulatory care, said the QEII has same-day appointments for any woman who requires an abortion.

“We are actually setting up a self-referral process as well, which will go hand-in-hand with this, but we currently provide same-day appointments for women who require an abortion service.”

However, ultrasound wait times have been an issue in the province and could pose a problem given that Mifegymiso is a time-sensitive drug — it must be taken by seven weeks gestation.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said the province’s health authority is working to ensure women will get access to ultrasounds when they need them, regardless of where they live in the province.

“I don’t believe we are in a situation to guarantee in every situation that every individual would get same-day access to an ultrasound,” said Delorey. “On the operational side we will see what if any changes would need to be made to the system when this rolls out.”

Lianne Yoshida, medical co-director of the QEII’s Termination of Pregnancy Unit, said she’s in talks with senior officials to obtain an ultrasound machine for the unit, something that would speed up the process.

“I’m trying to be very hopeful,” she said. “They are not ignoring the ultrasound issue at all. They are looking at it.”

Mifegymiso, an alternative to surgical abortion, is a combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. It can be used to terminate pregnancies at an early stage, up to seven weeks from the start of a woman’s last menstrual period.

Women in Ontario were able to get the abortion pill for free with a prescription as of Aug. 10 at participating pharmacies with a valid health card and prescription.

Earlier this month, it was made available under Saskatchewan’s prescription drug plan, with the cost based on women’s individual drug coverage and eligibility through benefit programs.

New Brunswick and Alberta also cover Mifegymiso, and the Quebec government has said it hopes to do so.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority is also setting up a phone line for women to make appointments and seek advice.

— With files from Brett Bundale

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

WATCH: Finishing touches being put on Servus Arena

The finishing touches are being put on Red Deer’s newest arena. The… Continue reading

Suspect in police chase in court

RCMP opened fire twice while trying to arrest suspects in vehicle chase in October

New temporary beds will immediately help Red Deer homeless

The 20 new temporary beds approved for Safe Harbour’s warming centre cannot… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP are seeking man posing as a police officer

Suspect is large, in his 30s, with red hair and beard

Update: “Someone knows something” – police

Motorist dies near Ponoka after loose tire collides with vehicle near Ponoka

Red Deer police seize rifles and shotguns from storage locker

A man and a woman facing nearly 200 charges after 29 firearms seized last month

Notley criticizes MLA who fired staffer after sex harassment complaint

Notley says if Jason Nixon was her house leader he’d be out of a job immediately.

Red Deer needs to find a solution to syringe debris: city manager

City will consider the problem during the 2018 operating budget talks

WestJet Christmas video turns children’s wishes into reality

This year’s annual video took a new spin on the 12 days of Christmas

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer Dec. 10

Watch news highlights from Red Deer and Central Alberta

VIDEO: B.C. to end geographic area rent increases, close fixed-term lease loopholes

Both clauses allowed landlords to raise rents above the max annual allowable rent increase

UPDATE: Train hits hydro pole, causes outage near Deltaport

No injuries reported but traffic in and out of Deltaport is blocked

A Red Deer daycare coordinator wins provincial award of excellence

Nicole Morrell is a coordinator at Johnstone Daycare

Holiday shopping season picking up in Red Deer

With 18 shopping days left until Christmas, Red Deer businesses are cautiously… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month