Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost announced on Oct. 31 that universal coverage of the abortion inducing medication Mifegymiso will be available immediately for certain municipalities in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Medical abortion now universally covered in the Yukon

Mifegymiso, a two-drug combo, is available in Whitehorse and three communities

Yukon women are now entitled to a fully funded, non-invasive abortion alternative.

On the final day of Women’s History Month, Oct. 31, the Yukon government announced universal coverage of Mifegymiso, an abortion-inducing medication, effective immediately, Health and Social Services (HSS) Minister Pauline Frost told reporters after question period that day.

The drug, Frost said in a statement delivered in the House, “will reduce barriers and provide more unique and equal access to those seeking abortion services.”

“We are providing universal coverage to ensure that Yukoners have more options and increased access to abortion services. By providing coverage of the medication, we are allowing Yukoners to make the choice that is right for them, regardless of the cost. Offering Mifegymiso at no cost is one way to ensure that Yukoners are able to access the best possible care for their sexual and reproductive health,” she said.

Two medications make up Mifegymiso, which can be used to terminate pregnancies up to 63 days.

The medication is available in 60 countries and has been used for 30 years.

Frost called it the “gold standard” for medical abortions.

Coverage is exclusive to four municipalities: Whitehorse, Watson Lake, Haines Junction and Dawson City. These locales were selected because they have full-time resident physicians, whom can conduct follow-up appointments after use to ensure safety, Frost said.

Mifegymiso is cheaper – far cheaper – than surgical abortions, costing $300 versus anywhere between $1,200 and $1,400. It’s also considered less invasive than having a surgical abortion.

According to Clarissa Wall, a spokesperson for HSS, there are 110 abortions on average every year in the territory.

Michelle Wolsky, nurse practitioner at the Yukon Sexual Health Clinic, which provides access to contraception and referral for medical abortions, called the development important because it gives more choice to women and “they can control timing or how it works in their life.”

Further, the drug provides access to abortion to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it, she said.

“It was cost-prohibitive for many women,” Wolsky said.

The medication became available in Canada in February 2017.

Wolsky told the News surgical abortions have dropped by about 50 per cent since spring 2018, while medical abortion and IUD insertion rates have been on the rise.

“I expect the trend would continue. In jurisdictions that have offered medical abortion they have seen surgical rates decline,” she said.

The NDP submitted a motion last year in May calling for the medication to be covered.

In response to Frost’s ministerial statement, NDP House Leader Kate White said her party is “pleased” that the Yukon is approaching more equitable access to abortions.

She also had questions.

“I would appreciate it if the minister could explain further what the exact process is for people who don’t live in the four communities where the physician will be. We understand that they have to go to one of the community hubs to receive the prescription, but do they need to stay in that community between the prescription and the follow-up appointment, or can they go back home?” White asked.

Frost reiterated her point that the service will only be available in the four municipalities.

Asked by reporters after question period to elaborate on the accessibility of the drug for those who live in more remote areas, Frost said the option is for all residents, regardless of where they live.

“Right now, we have those four hubs and we want to make sure those hubs are used effectively and that means bringing clients to the hubs and ensure they’re given the supports and services they require,” she said.

Wolsky, the nurse practitioner, told the News that there are procedures that must be followed ahead of dispensing the medication, making travelling to the four hubs necessary as a matter of safety. One of those procedures involves an ultrasound.

“Unfortunately, that is the nature of living in the North, in terms of certain resources are based in certain areas. For patient safety that’s how it has to happen. Is it a barrier? For sure. This is the way we have to work it,” she said.

Patti McLeod, the Yukon Party’s HSS critic, had inquired during question period about ultrasounds and how the prescription system will work. She also asked whether Frost would consider increasing reimbursement rates of medical travel to assist residents in rural areas.

“As we work with our partners, we will ensure that we address the questions that have been raised. I don’t want us to deter from the fact that this has been a long time coming,” Frost said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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