Ease restrictions on abortion pill: Editorial

The abortion pill will finally be available in Canada in July. But the rules surrounding how women can get it are too restrictive.

Source: Toronto Star

It’s been available in France since 1988, Britain since 1991 and the United States since 2000. Now 28 years after it first appeared on the market, mifepristone — better known as the abortion pill RU-486 — will be available in Canada in July under the brand name Mifegymiso.

This is cause for celebration among the 100,000 women who choose an abortion each year in Canada. They will finally have an option other than a surgical abortion with a medication that is already available in 61 countries and is so safe and effective that the World Health Organization includes it in its Model List of Essential Medicines.

The pill will give Canadian women easier access to abortions. They will not have to travel long distances to hospitals or clinics to have one performed surgically and the procedure will not be delayed because of waiting lists.

Still, women’s health advocates and Canadian pharmacists say Health Canada’s restrictive policies on how the drug is to be distributed, while common to other countries where it is available, could make it more difficult than necessary for women to access the pill. That must be changed.

As it stands now, the drug will be available only directly from doctors — who may not choose to carry it for many reasons, including that it means they have to stock it, charge for it and take a course before they can prescribe it. That, says Sandeep Prasad of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, will restrict access to the drug in rural and remote areas where both physicians and abortion services are scarce.

Australia grappled with a similar situation when it approved the drug in 2012. It found doctors were reluctant to prescribe the medication, leaving it to established abortion clinics which were few and far between. Women now can use a telephone service that refers them to local labs for blood tests and an ultrasound. A doctor gets the results in a phone consultation and if the treatment is approved, the drug is sent out by mail. A mail system is also being tried out in four U.S. states.

There are other ways to make it easier for women to access the drug, including allowing midwives and nurse practitioners to prescribe it and pharmacists to dispense it.

Millions of women around the world have taken the pill safely so it seems unnecessarily cautious for Health Canada to insist that only doctors can dispense it. There have been enough roadblocks to getting this medication into the hands of Canadian women.

Health Canada should review its restrictions and make it easier for women to access Mifegymiso.

Posted on 2016-04-24
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