Health Minister ‘will be checking’ on provinces’ abortion access plans

February 23, 2016 – Anna Mehler Paperny, Global News

Health Minister Jane Philpott says she’ll be following up on conversations she’s had with P.E.I.’s health minister, among others, to ensure they’re improving access to abortion.

As a Global News investigation illustrated, access to reproductive health across Canada still depends heavily on who you are and where you live.

Prince Edward Island is being sued over its lack of on-island abortion.

pei abortions encore

An Ipsos poll found 57 per cent of Canadians surveyed endorse a woman’s right to choose — up almost 10 points from last year.

Philpott, who spoke with Global News last week, says she’s committed to improving access to reproductive care across Canada.

But she won’t say exactly how she’ll do that. She’s reluctant to use the political cudgel of withholding federal cash from provinces deemed in violation of the Health Act.

“I will be checking back with them in the near future to find out what their further plans are on this,” she said.

“A punitive approach is not the first choice.”

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This heat map shows the distance you’d have to travel from various places in Canada to access an abortion provider.

This heat map shows the distance you’d have to travel from various places in Canada to access an abortion provider.

Graphic by Leslie Young, Global News

Read the full abortion access conversation:

You’ve admitted abortion access is patchy and said you want to improve it. How will you do that?

Well I am responsible for overseeing the Canada Health Act. And the Canada Health Act requires that all Canadians have access to medically necessary care, no matter where they are in the country. And one of the issues we are facing is that sometimes reproductive health services are not equally accessible in all parts of the country. That’s something I’m looking into and talking to my counterparts in the other jurisdictions to make sure that care is available.

So is abortion medically necessary?

Our government is committed to making sure that women have access to abortion as they need, and other reproductive health services as necessary. And we’re committed to making sure that access to care is equitable across the country.

YOUR STORIES: Navigating Canada’s abortion provider patchwork

So do you think provinces like P.E.I. — and, perhaps to a lesser extent, New Brunswick — are in violation of the act?

I have had preliminary conversations with my colleagues in other provinces, including Prince Edward Island, about access to reproductive health care services. And I know it is something they are working on. There is a new minister of health on Prince Edward Island; I’ve had some good conversations with him starting when we first met at the health ministers’ meeting in Vancouver. And I know it’s something that they’ve been talking about. And we’ll continue the conversation.

So are they going to start offer abortions in the province? Is that what they said?

I will be checking back with them in the near future to find out what their further plans are on this.

Would you consider withholding health transfers to any provinces that you don’t think are giving adequate access to abortion?

My style in interacting with health ministers across the country is to work in a very collaborative way to be able to find solutions that mean Canadians will be able to have access to the health care that they need. So obviously a punitive approach is not the first choice approach in any circumstance, and so I’ll be working with my colleagues to make sure Canadians have access to the care that they need.

But we’re seeing women suing the provincial government. So if the province isn’t acting of its own accord to improve things, even if punitive action isn’t a first step, would it be a choice that you’d consider?

This is going to be a step-wise response. And you’re absolutely right that Prince Edward Island is facing some legal challenges related to access to care. And that is causing us to look at what they can offer to try to do their best by the people that they are serving. So I will continue to work with them in a reasonable manner and we’ll continue to have the conversation. And I can update you as we go along.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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