New pressure on Newfoundland and Labrador to cover abortion pill

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador — the only province that does not provide at least partial coverage of the abortion pill — is under renewed pressure to do so.

Medical students and practitioners have written an open letter to the premier and health department asking for universal coverage of Mifegymiso, as well as supportive resources for physicians prescribing the drug.

The letter is a follow-up to a meeting between medical students and Health Minister John Haggie in March.

The two-drug combination terminates pregnancies of up to nine weeks, as an alternative to surgical methods that are currently covered by the province.

Activists say the province has a unique need for the alternative abortion access.

Mifegymiso costs approximately $350, while a surgical abortion can cost as much as $1,500, not including travel costs to a clinic.

The province’s year-round abortion clinics are located in St. John’s, putting it out of financial reach for many low-income patients outside the capital.

Rolanda Ryan, owner of Athena Health Clinic in St. John’s, said her clinic has performed 1,121 procedures since Mifegymiso rolled out at the end of January last year. Fifty of those used the drug — 38 of them in 2018 as word of its availability spread.

Ryan has worked with physicians in remote communities to prescribe the drug and says her clinic is happy to provide support to any practitioners — including access to the 24-hour phone line required after taking the pill.

She said she’s not sure whether the government will fully fund the pill given its financial situation, but hopes for at least a partial coverage plan to help low-income patients access the drug.

“I honestly don’t know what the outcome will be, but it has to be in such a way that people aren’t out of pocket, or that they’re minimally out of pocket,” said Ryan.

“It has to be so that nobody falls through the cracks because of the price tag of the pills.”

Every other province in Canada now offers some coverage of medical abortions using pills, with costs varying depending on a patient’s income, private health benefits and other factors, to full universal coverage for all residents.

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