Health Canada finally approves abortion pill

Posted on in Health Policy Context

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – RU-486 or mifepristone gives women access to a safe, non-surgical abortion. Its approval in Canada is long overdue.
Jul 31 2015.   Editorial

Why it’s taken Health Canada so long to approve the use of the abortion pill RU-486, also known as mifepristone, is a mystery.  Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose did not comment on her department’s decision to finally approve the drug this past week.

“Drug approval decisions are arms-length decisions made by Health Canada officials based on analysis by Health Canada scientists,” is all a spokesperson for Ambrose would say.  Regardless, its approval is most welcome — and long overdue.  The department has been reviewing an application for its approval from the drug’s manufacturer, Linepharma International, since the fall of 2012. And it’s not as if Health Canada was dealing with a new and unknown drug.

Mifepristone — which Linepharma says will be sold with a doctor’s prescription under the brand name Mifegymiso in Canada starting in January 2016 — is included in the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. And it has been approved for use in 57 countries worldwide, including France since 1988, Britain since 1991, and the United States since 2000. In fact, the drug accounts for more than 60 per cent of abortions in some European countries, and about 20 per cent in the U.S.  “Millions of women worldwide have used mifepristone safely and effectively,” said a commentary in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, arguing for its approval in 2013.

And it’s not as if there wasn’t a pressing need for the drug, known as the “gold standard” of medical abortions, to be available in Canada.  An estimated one in three Canadian women will have an abortion during her lifetime. The drug, effective in 95 per cent of all cases, can be taken up to seven weeks after the start of a pregnancy.

In short, it finally gives the 100,000 women who choose an abortion each year in Canada a safe option to surgery. Taken orally in combination with misoprostol, a drug already approved for use in Canada, mifepristone works by mimicking an early miscarriage. (Mifegymiso is a combination pack that includes both drugs.)

As the Star has argued previously, among the pill’s benefits:
– It allows a woman to end a pregnancy safely at home.
– Its approval means women in rural areas or in P.E.I. — where there are no abortion facilities — would not have to travel to end a pregnancy.
– Women would not have to delay an abortion while they wait for access to a surgical procedure.
– The availability of the drug in other countries is associated with abortions occurring earlier in gestation.
– It will free up operating room time in hospitals.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada has been urging Health Canada to make the drug available since 2009.  Its chief executive, Dr. Jennifer Blake, has said the availability of the drug would have no impact on the number of women choosing abortion, but would simply make it a private health matter between a woman and her doctor.

That’s the way it should always have been. When the drug hits the market in January that is the way it finally will be.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2015/07/31/health-canada-finally-approves-abortion-pill-editorial.html >

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