Abortion pill approved: Canada reacts to RU-486
Published Thursday, July 30, 2015 3:04PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 31, 2015 10:26AM EDT
After legalization in the United States, the UK and 55 other countries, abortion pill RU-486 has finally been given the stamp of approval by Canadian health officials.
Health Canada announced late Wednesday that the drug would be available for use in Canada, 2 ½ years after the drug’s manufacturer submitted an application to the national regulator.
The pill, sold in Canada under the name Mifegymiso, was invented in France 25 years ago as an alternative to surgical abortions. The drug must be used within the first seven weeks of pregnancy and will only be available with a doctor’s prescription in Canada. If used correctly, Mifegymiso has a 95 per cent success rate.
The announcement drew strong reactions from both sides of the abortion debate, while Minister of Health Rona Ambrose offered a closely worded response.
“I really only have one comment, and that is that the decision does not rest with me,” Ambrose told reporters in Edmonton Thursday. ”It’s out of my hands and the decision is final.”
When asked specifics about the drug, Ambrose said, “Any of those details you would have to speak to the officials at Health Canada and the scientists that actually managed the regulatory approval process. I’m not involved in it.”
Benefits to new immigrants, east coast and rural-area women
The drug’s release on the Canadian market will likely have the biggest impact on women in rural communities, one Toronto-based doctor suggested.
“You can make abortion accessible to women where surgery is not available,” Dr. Erika Feuerstein of the Bay Centre for Birth Control said Thursday. “So in outskirts, regions where there are no surgeons doing procedures, a woman can still have a safe abortion.”
The same goes for women in some east coast provinces, where access to abortions is limited, said Ayesha Adhami, administrative coordinator for the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre
“P.E.I., for example doesn’t have any access to abortion services,” Adhami told CTV’s News Channel on Thursday. "The Morgentaler Clinic recently closed in New Brunswick. So those areas will benefit from that.”
As well, the drug’s relatively low price will benefit new immigrants and refugees to Canada still waiting for medical coverage, Adhami said.
“[Abortions] cost upwards of $400, so this gives them easier access,” she said. “It gives them options when they need it.”
Access to the abortion pill also depends on how individual provinces will decide to fund the drug as part of their healthcare systems. If the provinces cover little or none of the cost, the pill —while more cost-effective than surgical procedures—may still remain out of reach for some.
A Health P.E.I. statement said that while the Health Canada approval means that the drug can be legally sold in Canada, each jurisdiction has the opportunity to determine coverage aspects including prescribing, delivering and funding the drug.
Health P.E.I. said the province will be consulting a national drug review before it decides on the funding level for RU-486, the statement said.
Health Canada’s decision is seen as a win for pro-choice advocates who seek greater accessibility for family planning options.
“We feel pretty pleased about it here,” said Sarah Hobbs Blyth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Toronto.
“This is something that will increase options for youth and women across Canada. It’s safe, it’s reliable, it has been used across the world for a while now, so we’re pleased with Health Canada’s announcement.”
Some anti-abortion advocates have taken an opposing stance.
“The bottom line is, you’re not taking the pill to get rid of a cold or a stuffy nose,” said Christina Alaimo of the Campaign Life Coalition. “This is a very serious procedure that’s being done and I think it may psychologically make it easier for women.”
While Conservative cabinet ministers have shied away from questions about Health Canada’s decision to approve RU-486, one Conservative MP from Saskatchewan strongly condemned the government for allowing the drug.
"It is a dangerous combination of drugs that destroys a woman's tissues in the womb in order to kill her pre-born child," David Anderson, the member for Cypress Hills-Grasslands, said in a release. "I am extremely disappointed that Health Canada would see this as acceptable to Canadians."
Canadian women will have access to the drug starting in January 2016.
With a report from Katie Simpson