Albertans now have free access to legal medical abortion drugs, the province announced. It joins New Brunswick and Ontario in offering universal coverage of RU-486 known by its trade name Mifegymiso to all people covered by provincial health care.
“Women’s reproductive options should not be determined by their income or where they live. For far too long, women in rural communities have had to travel to major urban centres to receive a surgical abortion,” said Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman.
Federal patients, including First Nations and Inuit peoples, who are covered by the Non-Insured Health Benefits are also able to access Mifegymiso free of charge.
“By providing universal coverage for Mifegymiso, we’re supporting greater choice for women when it comes to their reproductive health,” Hoffman said.
People in all other provinces and territories must still pay out of pocket for the regimen, as must most federal patients, people incarcerated with a sentence of more than two years, serving members of the Canadian Forces and eligible veterans.
It has been two years since Health Canada first approved RU-486 following one of the lengthiest drug approval processes in the country. It first became publicly available in January of this year at a cost of approximately $300. It was then recommended for public drug plan coverage by the Common Drug Review in the spring. That review was undertaken by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, an independent not-for-profit organization that is responsible for providing health care decision-makers with objective evidence to make informed decisions about the best uses of drugs, diagnostic tests, and medical, dental, and surgical devices and procedures. It also provides advice, recommendations, and tools.
Under Health Canada’s approval guidelines, physicians should complete a training program before prescribing Mifegymiso. Any pharmacist can then dispense it.
Women already have access to it in more than 50 other countries, including France, Britain and the United States.
The treatment is a two-step regimen that pairs one drug, mifepristone, with another called misoprostol, inducing an abortion similar to a natural miscarriage. Women must first undergo an ultrasound examination in order to determine both the age of gestation and if there are any potential health risks. It can be prescribed for use within the first 49 days or seven weeks from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. Linepharma, the drug's manufacturer, is working to get that timeline extended up to 63 days or nine weeks.
Canadian reproductive medicine experts have called it the best-known option for abortion.
“This medication has been the gold standard for medical abortion care around the world for almost 30 years and we are grateful it is now available to women here,” said Celia Posyniak, the executive director of the Kensington Clinic, a freestanding surgical and medical abortion clinic in Edmonton.
“Kensington Clinic has been offering Mifegymiso since January 2017 and has found it to be safe and effective. Most importantly, it will ensure women truly have reproductive choice by improving access across Alberta.”
“Alberta has shown exemplary leadership in implementing a program that recognizes the incredible potential for Mifegymiso to address ongoing barriers and increase health equality. They have demonstrated that cost coverage is both necessary and possible. That is why we expect all provincial and territorial governments to commit to cost coverage programs of at least the same calibre as Alberta's before the health ministers’ meeting in the fall of 2017,” said Sandeep Prasad, executive director of the national advocacy group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.
Medical abortions are not widely available across the country but are offered in some clinics and hospitals. People can contact Action Canada via its toll-free Access Line at 1-888-642-2725 or visit its website at www.sexualhealthandrights.ca/find-service-provider to find a nearby service provider. The Alberta Society for the Promotion of Sexual Health based in Edmonton also has more information about abortion and reproductive health. Its website is www.aspsh.ca.