In 2018, the province expanded its access or “bubble” zone around the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic on Helmcken Road from 10 to 50 metres, to protect clinic staff and people accessing the clinic from harassment and intimidation. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

Still barriers to abortion access on Vancouver Island

Experts say transportation, support, doctors can be barriers to accessing abortion

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada updated its list of abortion clinics in Canada in April, but the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic in View Royal continues to be the only one on the Island.

Additionally, four hospitals — soon to be five — on the Island offer facilities for planned surgical abortions where providers can serve patients. Due to privacy reasons, the names of the hospitals were not disclosed by Island Health.

This means some women looking to have a surgical abortion on Vancouver Island may have to travel outside of their communities to receive one.

READ ALSO: Trump tells anti-abortion activists to stay united for 2020

“In the late ‘90s and early 2000s one of the last things the NDP government did was they passed a regulation requiring certain hospitals to provide facilities for abortions,” said Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada executive director Joyce Arthur. “But that’s deteriorated, some hospitals can’t because they need a doctor that can provide them.”

Arthur said there is a shortage of abortion providers in areas farther from city centres. She said part of that has to do with harassment that can come from practising in a smaller town.

Dawn Fowler, executive director of the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic, said many patients come to the clinic from outside of Greater Victoria. Some have even travelled from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to seek abortion services.

Fowler said one of the reasons for this is because the clinic’s providers are able to perform abortions later in the term — up to 23 weeks.

“There are fewer doctors that perform abortions in later gestational ages,” Fowler said.

However, having to travel for a surgical abortion could be a major barrier for women who may not have access to a vehicle or cannot afford to travel.

Additionally, Fowler said there are still some doctors who are against abortions and will not refer their patients for surgery or medical abortions.

“It’s unfortunate that in today’s time and society you would encounter a physician who is not pro-choice and not supportive of their patient’s desires and needs but it does happen and that’s the reality,” Fowler said.

But the option for cost-covered medical abortions in B.C., through a drug called Mifepristone, has made access to safe abortions much better, according to Fowler.

The drug, which goes by the brand name Mifegymiso, is not the same as the morning-after pill. It is a combination of two medications that block the effect of progesterone and cause contractions of the uterus and relaxation of the cervix.

It has been cost-covered for B.C. residents with a valid MSP number since January 2018 but has been used around the world since 1988.

Patients with a valid prescription are able to access Mifegymiso at a pharmacy and are able to have a medical abortion if nine weeks pregnant or less.

“Mifepristone has opened up access to abortions,” Fowler said. “You certainly don’t need the same infrastructure and skill level to do medical abortions compared to surgical abortions.”

Arthur said that there is still work to be done when it comes to abortion access in Canada. She said with the amount of misinformation online, many women are misinformed about abortions or don’t know where to look for services and counselling.

“I’d like to see Health Canada with a whole section on their website devoted to information on abortion…how to access it, where to access it and information about the procedure, safety and side effects,” Arthur said.

Both Arthur and Fowler said transportation, lack of support and unreliable resources online can make things more difficult for women looking to have an abortion.

“But we are absolutely there for them and willing to help them out,” Fowler said. “They may have to leave their community to obtain the care that they want but it’s important that they get good care and well-supported care.”

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com


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