International Day of Rural Women Reminds of Need for Abortion Access

Today has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Rural Women—a day to recognize the critical role and contributions of rural women throughout the world and to address the unique challenges they face. More than one in five Canadian women face the added obstacles that come with living in a rural area—obstacles such as a lack of transportation, increased risk of poverty, and barriers to accessing health care, including abortion care. Today, as we celebrate rural and indigenous women, we urge Health Canada to take steps to improve access to abortion care—particularly for rural women—by approving the current application before them for mifepristone.

Mifepristone is recognized as the gold standard for medical abortion care, and has been used by millions of women worldwide since 1988. It is currently available in 57 countries, but not in Canada. Although medical abortions—abortions using medication to terminate a pregnancy—are provided in parts of Canada, the current regimen is a second-rate alternative and much of this care is only available in the major urban centres. This means that rural women seeking abortion care encounter additional barriers and may have to delay their care while they arrange transportation, child care, and extra time off from work.

As we have seen in other countries, the approval of mifepristone would enable women in rural and northern communities to access early medical abortion care locally from their own health care providers, and not have to travel long distances or have procedures later in pregnancy when the risk of complications is higher. In Australia, where mifepristone was approved in 2012, it has made abortion care more accessible for rural women who previously had tremendous difficulty obtaining a surgical abortion.

In addition to providing greater access to care, some women choose mifepristone because it doesn’t involve a surgical procedure and may allow for more privacy—something that can be a real concern for women in smaller communities.

Given the outstanding safety record and availability of mifepristone around the world, there’s no reason Health Canada should delay or fail to approve mifepristone. And its approval is one definite way we could improve access to abortion care for rural women. As the UN Secretary-General said this week, “the International Day of Rural Women is an occasion to listen to their voices and respond to their concerns.” We urge Health Canada to listen to rural women about their health care needs, and give them access to the gold standard for medical abortion care.

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