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PHSA research increasing access to safe abortions for women across Canada

Research from WHRI resulted in several national policy changes on the regulation of Mifepristone, a drug used to terminate pregnancies at an early stage. These changes are reducing barriers women face when making decisions about having an abortion.

Ninety-six per cent of Canadian abortions are surgical and largely concentrated in the largest cities close to the southern border. For women living in rural and remote areas of the province, access to a surgical abortion may require many hours of travelling to a community where the procedure is available. Others seeking a safe alternative to surgical abortion face barriers to treatment due to difficulties in accessing the drugs from a variety of factors including affordability.

Research findings and recommendations from WHRI researchers with the Contraception and Abortion Research Team (CART) resulted in several national policy changes by Health Canada regarding the regulation of the drug, Mifepristone, which can be used to terminate pregnancies at an early stage – up to nine weeks from the start of the last menstrual period. This research and advocacy also resulted in provincial policy changes in British Columbia regarding the regulation, dispensing, and financial coverage of Mifepristone.

Access to safe abortions for women in BC has greatly improved with these changes, which include the removal of the federal requirement for women to swallow the drug in front of a doctor. This important change supports women to decide when and where they want to start their abortion, including in the comfort of their home. 

Health Canada also removed the restriction that only doctors could hand the drug to the patient, so that now federal regulations allow pharmacists to dispense the medication. This enables provision in remote communities through telemedicine consults with physicians and dispensing of the medicine by a local pharmacy. Five provinces (including BC) now also allow nurse practitioners to prescribe this medication.

Provincially, CART researchers were consulted and invited to submit evidence and recommendations which the BC Government used to support its decision to provide mifepristone free of charge. This is important for women as it could otherwise cost up to $400 dollars per dose.

By eliminating the cost of the prescription, women will be able to make decisions based on their health care needs and personal choice, and determine what’s best for their own situation rather than having their choices limited by their ability to pay for treatment. This can help decrease the additional stress that may be associated with such a difficult and personal decision.

CART is led by Dr. Wendy Norman, investigator at WHRI, director of Family Practice Research Training and associate professor with UBC’s Department of Family Practice. WHRI’s CART continues to explore barriers to mifepristone practice in Canada, including access to timely ultrasound, the uptake among nurse practitioners and adequate payment for care services.

Learn more about CART on

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