Access to abortion in B.C. needs improvement, especially in small communities and rural areas

B.C. residents can access an abortion in six cities, but not in the Fraser Health Region

Many communities still do not have access to abortion care services in B.C.(Abortion Rights and Coalition of Canada)

Many communities still do not have access to abortion care services in B.C.(Abortion Rights and Coalition of Canada)

The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S Supreme Court has ended many Americans’ right to access an abortion. With this new law, access to an abortion will be different depending on what state a person resides in. Few states will maintain the right to access an abortion, others have banned it, restricted it, or are in the process banning out-of-state abortion care.  

According to the government of Canada, abortion has only been legal here for three decades. While it remains a protected right, there are still many obstacles a person has to face to access the service. According to the provincial government’s health page, a person seeking an abortion does not need a referral from their doctor or parental consent. They are also able to access two types of abortion: through medication or an abortion procedure. 

The abortion pill is covered for British Columbians under PharmaCare and can access it for free with a prescription from a nurse practitioner or doctor. The surgical abortion is also covered under the Medical Services Plan (MSP) and can be accessed at hospitals and abortion clinics. 

In B.C. and the rest of Canada, access to abortion services gets more difficult when a person leaves urban areas, says Michelle Fortin, the executive director of Options for Sexual Health

She says a person living in Fort St. John will have to travel to access an abortion procedure but if they need or want the abortion medication they can access that through video telehealth with the Willow clinic. 

However for Indigenous Peoples, people from racialized communities, people experiencing poverty, and people from the 2LGBTQ+ community, there are many barriers they already experience in the healthcare system so the added “layer of shame and vulnerability connected to an unplanned pregnancy” creates more difficulties for them. 

At Option for Sexual Health, patients are provided with the support they need when considering the choice to make with a pregnancy. This can include abortion, adoption, or choosing to raise the child. Fortin says it’s about the patient choosing what is best for them. 

According to Fortin, 60 per cent of abortions in the country are with people who already have children. 

“Abortion isn’t just about someone who is young and can’t handle being a parent yet. It is also the reality for folks who were using contraception and it failed. They’ve already got children [and] children can be expensive,” says Fortin. “It’s important to remember that people have an opportunity to have the conversation with a profession that takes a non judgemental approach to it.” 

A compiled list by Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada of abortion clinics across the country shows that a person in B.C can access an abortion in Cranbrook, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Nelson, Vancouver, and Victoria. Vancouver offers more options with two clinics and two hospitals or health centres. 

Someone living in the Fraser Health Region does not have access to a clinic or hospital that provides an abortion procedure. There are more than 1.9 million people residing in the region and a person who seeks an abortion will be directed to the clinic options in Vancouver, which is in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region. 

“Surrey is the fastest growing municipality in Canada, and Surrey Memorial Hospital does not provide healthcare that includes abortions. There’s not one abortion clinic in Fraser Health. From the Burnaby border to Hope, there is not a single abortion clinic,” Fortin says. 

Fortin says this presents a big problem for the province because it’s a region with a growing population and young families. One of the ways she says to fix the lack of access to abortion service in the Fraser Health Region is have any provincially and publicly funded hospitals provide abortion care because it is a part of healthcare. 

“It’s nobody’s business if someone needs an abortion, and they should be able to get it on demand and in their home community. Why should someone who lives in Trail — where there’s a fully functioning hospital — why should they have to go to Kelowna?” 

Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, a non-profit pro-choice group who is “devoted to ensuring abortion rights and access,” says the lack of access to an abortion procedure in the Fraser Health Region is “not acceptable.” 

“The province should be working with hospitals or with the health authorities to make sure that [abortion service and] care is provided in every region,” Arthur says.  

Arthurs says the goal should be providing hospitals with more doctors that can perform abortions, especially in smaller communities and rural areas to increase access to abortions throughout the province. 

With Roe v. Wade overturned and more Americans possibly coming to Canada to seek abortions, Arthur wants the federal government to increase funding for the medical service. She says this can be done by increasing the percentage of the provincial healthcare budget the federal government covers and have the province use the extra money to invest in more “sexual reproductive health care, including abortion care.” 

Fortin believes Americans who are seeking abortions and can afford to travel will go to neighbouring states where abortions are allowed before they make a trip across the border, since not every American owns a passport. 

Fortin also wants both levels of government in Canada to create more equitable access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. She says one of the ways to limit unplanned pregnancies is making contraception free and universally accessible. 

“Ensure that from kindergarten to Grade 12, the amazing sexual health education standards that we have in this province [are] actually taught in classrooms, then young people would understand their bodies a little better,” Fortin says. 

Fortin says making abortion laws stricter does not lower the amount of abortions, but instead increases the death of people seeking abortions and makes the ways a person seeks an abortion more unsafe. 

Arthurs says sexual health must also be mentioned in discussions of abortion, and one of the steps of improvements from the government should be ensuring increased funding for clinics that provide sexual and reproductive health. 

Some B.C. politicians have reaffirmed that abortion laws won’t change in the province and acknowledged the work that still needs to be done to improve access, especially in rural communities.