Bloggers note: The only Grim thing here is 100,000 plus abortions and suffering Mom s with dead babies Canadian Medical Association Journal SHAME on our doctors... CMA members come to grips of yourselves and offer real choices, Women are owed More than abortion.
November 20, 2014
Lauren Vogel, cmaj
Canadian women seeking to end unwanted pregnancies face wide gaps in access to abortion and have little choice in the technique used, a landmark study reveals.
Access to abortion depends largely on where you live, with wide disparities among provinces and between rural and urban locations, according to a new survey of abortion services in Canada. And with few options for drug-induced abortion — the preferred method for ending a pregnancy during the first trimester in the United States and many European peer nations — 96% of abortions in Canada are done surgically.
Researchers presented initial results of the 2012 survey, which was funded by the Society of Family Planning, at the Family Medicine Forum in Quebec City on Nov. 12. The venue was germane; the study shows that 46 of Canada's 94 abortion facilities are located in Quebec. The province is also a leader in equitable access; half of its abortion facilities are in rural areas and there's at least one facility in every health region.
No other province comes close to providing the same level of access. British Columbia has 16 facilities located in hospitals, community health centers and doctor's offices; half of these are in rural areas. There are 16 facilities in Ontario, eight among Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, four in Atlantic Canada and four in the territories. Of these facilities, only those in the territories and one in Atlantic Canada are located in rural areas. There is no facility in Prince Edward Island.
The results paint a starker picture than researchers expected, says co-investigator Dr. Edith Guilbert, a senior medical advisor at the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec. "We knew about PEI and we knew that access was difficult in New Brunswick, but now we have real data showing that it's not just an Atlantic matter — the number of providers in the other English-speaking provinces is quite low."
It's also the first clear evidence that a laissez-faire approach to abortion provision doesn't ensure equitable access. Since the 1970s, Quebec has dedicated funds to establish abortion clinics in underserved areas. And in the 1990s, BC legislated which hospitals must offer abortion services to ensure rural and remote access. Both provinces support provider networks, and in BC there's a hotline women can call to connect with the nearest facility in the network.
"These are the only jurisdictions where the proportion of rural facilities is equal to or greater than the proportion of women living in these areas," says co-investigator Dr. Wendy Norman, who holds the Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Public Health Agency of Canada chair in applied public health research. "There are no other provincial or territorial policies supporting this kind of access to abortion in other regions of Canada."
For women, this means waiting longer and travelling farther for basic reproductive care, which in turn puts them at higher risk of having a second trimester abortion and its associated complications. And for those without the resources or time to navigate the system, it may mean carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term.
"Canada has never counted the costs being incurred … when abortion services aren't accessible," says Norman. "You're looking at things like the productivity of the mother in society, and the ability of the mother to launch the children she may already have."
Guilbert says that increasing access to medical abortion — that is, abortion induced by oral medication — could close some of the gaps in rural access because a local family doctor could administer the drug. "It saves women having to travel. It saves them having to undergo a surgical procedure."
Yet barely 4% of abortions in Canada are done this way, compared to more than half in some peer nations, such as France. This is largely because the best abortion drugs are not available in Canada — "we are relying on medications that are not optimal," says Guilbert.
Health Canada has been considering whether to approve mifepristone (known as RU-486) since December 2012. According to a recent CMAJ commentary (( article below)) (2013;186:13-14), the drug is considered the gold standard for inducing safe and early non-surgical abortion. Instead, Canadian physicians rely on less effective medicines ordinarily used to treat ectopic pregnancy, or in some cases, cancer.
"These are slow to act, and when you explain to women it's going to take two or three weeks or more before the abortion is complete, they very quickly opt for a surgical abortion," says Guilbert.
Norman argues that's far from a choice. "We have some excellent policy and service delivery models, but currently we're not providing top-notch access for women to the full range of reproductive services across Canada."