Abortion rights in Canada aren't in danger of crumbling like in the United States, but the executive director of Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador says the province has a lot to do to improve access to reproductive health care — especially for people living in rural and remote areas.
Abortion is covered under the province's Medical Care Plan — but that doesn't help those living in rural areas who can't afford to make the trip to the abortion clinic in St. John's, said Nikki Baldwin on Wednesday
"Access to abortion in Newfoundland and Labrador is pitiful at best," Baldwin said in an interview with CBC News.
The only clinic performing surgical abortions in Newfoundland and Labrador is Athena Health Centre in St. John's, which also makes monthly trips to central and western Newfoundland. Surgical abortions generally are not performed in facilities run by the regional health authorities except in emergencies.
Baldwin said paying for travel, accommodations and food can make the trip cost-prohibitive for some in rural areas. She said Planned Parenthood has heard from people who resorted to hitchhiking to make their appointments.
She said organizations such as Athena Health Clinic and Planned Parenthood support patients as much as possible — including through crowdfunding — but she'd like to see abortions provided at hospitals run by the regional health authorities.
"There are a lot of people trying to help, but it's definitely pretty abysmal for something that could be done in every hospital across the province," Baldwin said.
CBC News has asked all four regional health authorities for comment.
On Wednesday, Health Minister John Haggie said the use of regional health authorities for abortions is for "a small subgroup" and "numerically not as significant" as the services provided by Athena Health Centre.
Haggie said in the 2022 budget the province changed the way it funds Athena Health Centre, so money will now be provided through block funding rather than through fees for service.
Since 2018, MCP also covers abortion pill Mifegymiso, which can be taken up to nine weeks into a pregnancy. Baldwin said that pill is more accessible for people living in rural or remote areas — as long as they can find a doctor who will prescribe it and a pharmacy that can order it in.
Baldwin said Planned Parenthood has heard from patients in rural areas who were unaware that Mifegymiso was an option — either because their health care provider was unaware of the medication, or refused to prescribe it because of personal beliefs.
Baldwin wants more education for doctors on reproductive health care, particularly Mifegymiso. Doctors in Newfoundland and Labrador can refuse to prescribe the medication for moral or ethical reasons, but they have to refer a patient to a doctor who will provide a prescription, Baldwin said.
Haggie said he isn't aware of systemic barriers to accessing Mifegymiso in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"Happy to look into individual circumstances with the appropriate, you know, caveats around privacy and this kind of thing," he said.
Reaction to Roe v. Wade draft decision
On Monday, a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft majority opinion suggested that the top court will overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the United States. The decision would return the issue to state legislatures — more than half of which are already prepared to ban or limit abortions.
Haggie gave his personal view on Wednesday.
"Abortion rights, fertility and reproductive health, they are fundamental rights for the women of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, and I don't think they should be any different in any other country," Haggie said.
"That's my view from the East Coast."
Baldwin said she reacted to the news from the United States with horror.
"We always need to be watching for people trying to take these human rights away from us," Baldwin said.