Destiny Werstroh squinted over her steering wheel, peering through the thick wall of a January snowstorm at what she could see of Highway 6 unfolding ahead.
In about eight hours, it would lead her and her boyfriend from their home in Thompson, Man., to the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, where Werstroh would end her pregnancy.
Months earlier, on a chilly August morning, Khrystyna Massan was with her mom and infant daughter on the same journey — though this one began in Gillam, Man., roughly 12 hours from the destination. She was nervous and sick, wishing she could have afforded to go sooner.
Both women arrived at the decision with confidence — each already had a young daughter, and knew having another child wasn’t the right choice for them — but that didn’t mean the choice was easy.
Though the abortion was free, the four-day trip to Winnipeg was expensive. Werstroh, a single mom, estimates it set her back around $1,500, between paying for gas, food and a place to stay. Massan, who at the time worked a few hours a week cleaning at a local daycare, says her costs were closer to $2,000.
But it was their only option.
When Massan, now 25, looked into ending her pregnancy, she wasn’t told about medication abortion — also known as Mifegymiso, a two-drug combination that ends a pregnancy.
Werstroh, now 26, said when she inquired, health-care staff told her the procedure — which involves taking medication at home, but could require care in a clinic or hospital depending on the outcome — was not an option in her community.
“It was just rough the whole way around. I wasn’t really offered any support,” Werstroh said of her 2019 experience.
While the province started covering the cost of medication abortion last September, barriers still exist in many communities.
It’s a problem addressed by a new policy shaped by community members in the Northern Health Region. Those guidelines, introduced in July, underline two points: practitioners who don’t want to prescribe Mifegymiso must refer patients to someone who will, and those who provide it need to be trained.
The rules are meant “to protect the health of women within the Northern Health Region,” a spokesperson said.
There are now at least four people in The Pas, Man., and two in Thompson trained to provide medication abortion, they said. Nurses in the region are also getting education on supporting and caring for those patients.
The policy is an important step in improving access, said Nadin Gilroy, the medical director of the Women’s Health Clinic’s abortion program. It signals to patients and providers that they have the health region’s support — whether that’s in deciding to have a medication abortion or incorporating the procedure into their practice.
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