Roe v. Wade discussion highlighting disparities in Sask. women's health services

In the wake of the possibility the U.S. Supreme Court could strike down the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which granted the right to abortion and other women’s health services south of the border, Saskatchewan felt the effects of a reignited conversation regarding the issue.

The NDP called on Premier Scott Moe in Question Period Tuesday to reaffirm his party’s position to ensure women in Saskatchewan have access to the services they request. Moe did not comment on the floor nor to the press on Tuesday.

The Saskatoon Sexual Health Centre (SSHC) highlighted the importance of women’s reproductive health rights.

“People who look to reduce gender equality and women’s rights is transnational,” SSHC executive director, Heather Hale said. “Access to reproductive health is impacted by: geography, poverty, education, disability or colonization. All of those factors come into play when we’re looking at the larger framework of health in our province.”

At the SSHC, a woman who requests to have an abortion can only do so with a referral from her family physician and within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The Ministry of Health said in a statement the timeline could increase to 14 weeks depending on the clinical needs of the patient.

In contrast, at the Women’s Health Centre at the Regina General Hospital, patients may self-refer and the procedure can be performed up to and including 18 weeks, six days. The ministry attributes the difference to additional training and skills clinicians in Regina have to perform the complex procedure.

NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer called on the government again Wednesday to reaffirm its position and increase access for women to health services like abortions.

Premier Scott Moe said on the floor of the assembly, “U.S. law does not affect policy in Canada” and “abortions are a fundamental health right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“There’s a disparity across the province that isn’t being addressed,” Sarauer said. “The alarming thing is this government is just flat out denying it even exists.”

According to Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights, there are only three clinics in the province which offer surgical abortion services – all of which are in Regina or Saskatoon. Saskatchewan is also one of five provinces and two territories to not have a clinic in a rural or remote community.

“We are a rural and remote province,” Moe said. “This is not the only health care procedure that is not available in every community across the province. It is likely into the future it won’t be in every community.”

The Ministry of Health continued its statement by saying, “the introduction of Mifegymiso (a type of abortion pill) could increase access to abortion services in rural communities. The SHA is continuing to look at options to improve access to services in remote areas.”

“When we think about abortion, we think about it from a reproductive justice framework,” Hale said. “So that’s absolutely the right to not have a child but also the right to have a child. But it’s also the right to parent a child in a safe and healthy environment.”

Hale said the SSHC’s job is not to make decisions for patients but rather to educate and support individuals through a complex and emotional process. She said it is not about being pro-life or pro-choice, but rather giving women the best possible information to ensure each individual can make their own decisions based on what is safe and healthy for them.

“Whatever they decide is best for them and their family, is what we want to support,” she said.

The Saskatoon Sexual Health Centre, community Planned Parenthoods and Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights are just some of the educational and support tools that exist for anyone looking for reproductive health services.