International Women's Day 2023
How real inequities impact abortion care in Canada

Barriers. Obstacles. Inequities. These are familiar words which are far too often associated with matters related to women’s sexual and reproductive health. International Women's Day offers a platform for women’s rights advocates to call for action on numerous issues of inequality and discrimination against women. Despite this being 2023, we still lag behind on women’s rights issues. This is true when it comes to education, employment and of course, basic access to healthcare services. And with regards to proper access to abortion care, the landscape has certainly changed significantly within the last few years, here in North America. 

The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade has brought abortion back into the spotlight, and as expected, the consequences of this ruling are devastating. Women in the US have not only lost  their right to chose and their right to make their own decisions regarding their personal health matters, they have also lost crucial access to safe and legal abortion care. 

Within one year of this ruling, abortion clinics in the US were shutting down at double the rate of the previous year. Furthermore, the potential ban on Mifepristone, a popular abortion medication, could put women at a greater disadvantage as when seeking treatment, or worse put their lives at risk altogether should they resort to getting care from illegal abortion practitioners. 

In Canada, abortion is not illegal but access for these services is limited for various reasons. It often comes down to geography, where remote areas have next to no access for abortion care services. Patients often have to travel many kilometers to get to an abortion clinic. Such is the case with Canada’s Atlantic provinces. The recent healthcare funding agreement shed light on the state of affairs in New Brunswick, for example.  

Dr. Yuyang Wang, SOGC member and OBGYN at Brockville General Hospital spoke to us about abortion access in the Atlantic provinces: 

“Wide swaths of Atlantic Canada are underserved. Patients still must drive many hours to get access to services that are supposed to be guaranteed by the Canada Health Act. It’s unequitable that this is the case, and it is unfair to a population that already is underserved and facing many barriers to care.”

Women may seek to terminate a pregnancy for various reasons, be it a physical health concern or any number of personal reasons, yet guidelines amongst the provinces vary significantly. Certain areas will perform surgical abortions after the 12-week mark whereas others may not. Only 4 provinces offer the possibility of surgical abortion at 20 weeks: Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Québec. If a woman decides to end her pregnancy after 24 weeks, she must travel to travel to another province or country to seek a medical procedure, which comes with a hefty financial cost. 

The SOGC has been sounding the alarm about the lack of access to surgical abortions in Canada for many years and will continue to do so as long as this problem persists.

Back in 2019, we issued a statement citing the need for better access and better alternatives to mitigate unwanted pregnancies:

“Pregnancy and pregnancy termination are complex decisions not entered into lightly. Abortion is a necessary option; the only question is whether it will be accessible and safe, or restricted to those with means. Our goal is to ensure equal access to safe abortion for all Canadians and to have well-trained and prepared health care providers offering a choice of medical or surgical termination in a secure network of care, close to home.”

Access to abortion services is crucial, yet education and providing resources for contraception are also important. In fact, researchers concluded that as many as 61% of Canadian women had at least one unplanned pregnancy in their lifetime. Access to free and effective contraception would reduce the abortion rates in Canada quite considerably.

A small yet significant victory!

British Columbia took a first step in providing free contraception to women, which would cover oral hormone pills, contraceptive injections, hormonal, and copper intrauterine devices just to name a few. 

Our CEO Dre. Diane Francoeur had this to say about the new funding: 

“Usually, women assume the full cost of contraceptives on their own. This is an enormous victory for women in BC.”

Every small victory does count, but bigger victories need to be won. We can’t afford to leave women in the lurch anymore when it comes to their reproductive rights. Empowering women means giving them the equal value in society, giving them proper care and giving them a safe environment to receive that care.

About Dr. Yuyang Wang

Dr. Wang is from London, Ontario and completed his medical school at the University of Western Ontario before going on to finish his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Dalhousie University. Dr. Wang’s areas of expertise include contraception, menstrual and menopause management, pediatric and adolescent gynecology, uterine fibroids and pelvic masses, and transgender health. He also held the position of Contraception Advice, Research, and Education (CARE) Fellow at Queen’s University.

(Pictured: Dr. Yuyang Wang)