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Long wait times for abortion ‘unacceptable,’ Quebec Premier Legault says

Quebec Premier François Legault says wait times for abortions of more than four weeks in some regions of the province are “unacceptable,” and that the government is working to improve the situation. 

“There’s a lot of work to do: there are people to hire, like attendants and nurses,” Legault said. “What’s missing is organization. I couldn’t tell you it will all be fixed in a year.”

Abortion access advocates have denounced long wait times for surgery in the Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches regions of Quebec, resulting in patients travelling to Montreal for surgery. 

“We want to make a complaint to the [Health Ministry’s] commissioner of complaints, and we may also talk about going to the Protecteur du citoyen,” said Karine Angers, director general of abortion rights group SOS Grossesse. 

In Quebec City, patients will wait two to three weeks before obtaining a first appointment at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université Laval (CHUL) and the Hôpital Saint-François d’Assise. Surgery will take place within seven days of the first appointment, according to CHU de Québec spokesperson Bryan Gelinas.

In Chaudière-Appalaches, the entire territory is served by a single institution, the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis, and the abortion clinic is only open once a week. Patients communicate with the hospital, and the abortion will occur in one appointment if the patient chooses the surgical method. 

Conversely, there are nine institutions in Montreal that offer abortion services — on top of four clinics specializing in women’s health — where the delays are usually 10 working days or fewer. 

There are no clinics specializing in women’s health in the Quebec City region or in Chaudière-Appalaches.

Holidays challenging

In December 2018, the absence of a doctor at the CHU de Québec, combined with statutory holidays on which abortion clinics are closed, posed some serious challenges. 

One woman complained to the CHU de Québec and the Chaudière-Appalaches Integrated Health and Social Services Centre’s complaints and quality services commissioner. 

In the document, which was obtained by Radio-Canada, the complainant says she contacted the region’s three resources on Dec. 17. 

The CHUL didn’t have a time slot available until Jan. 14, the Saint-François d’Assise had no slots until Jan. 15, and at the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis, there was no availability before Jan. 16. 

Karine Angers, director general of SOS Grossesse. (Radio-Canada)

Finally, the complainant got an appointment in Montreal three days later. 

The CHU de Québec’s Gélinas said the situation was exceptional. 

However, Quebec’s federation for birth planning (FQPN) said the situation is ongoing. 

“We hear on the ground that there are still people who find themselves in a situation where they have to wait more than four weeks,” said FQPN coordinator Mariane Labrecque. 

Traveling to Montreal for an abortion

Abortion patients from the Quebec City region will sometimes travel to Montreal to get an abortion, according to the medical director of Montreal’s Fémina clinic, Claude Paquin. 

“There are some who will decide to take their car, come to Montreal, and deal with everything in one visit that lasts about three hours,” Paquin said. 

“Women appreciate having one single visit, one single appointment, in specialized clinics. I think it could be extended to CLSCs and hospitals.” 

SOS Grossesse’s director general says the lack of accessibility to abortion outside major centres is not new — but Angers noted an increase in the number of calls from patients who say they live with the psychological repercussions of the wait. 

“A woman does not want to be pregnant, but she has to live several weeks with something she does not want in her body,” Angers said. 

The organization is reaching out to patients who have had difficulty accessing an abortion to see what can be done. So far, nine anonymous patients have answered the call.