Women who want to use the abortion pill Mifegymiso can now take it farther along in their pregnancy, Health Canada said Tuesday in announcing changes to how the medication is prescribed and dispensed.
The federal department said the abortion pill can now be prescribed up to nine weeks into a pregnancy, rather than the previous limit of seven weeks.
As well, the drug that was initially known as RU-486 can be dispensed directly to patients by a pharmacist or a prescribing health professional. Prior to Health Canada’s statement, there had been some confusion around who could prescribe and dispense the pill.
Mifegymiso is a combination product containing two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in sequence to terminate a pregnancy.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, one of several organizations that has been calling for more accessible abortion in Canada, lauded the changes by Health Canada
“There is decades worth of evidence from use in over 60 countries proving how safe and effective this medication is, yet Mifegymiso is more regulated than controlled substances in Canada,” Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada, said in a statement.
Prasad said Mifegymiso has the potential to significantly improve access to abortion, especially for women in rural and remote areas who are forced to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres, to find an abortion provider.
“Abortion access shouldn’t depend on your postal code or income bracket,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of all levels of government to address two-tiered access.”
Approved in 2015
Health Canada said women will no longer be required to provide written consent to take Mifegymiso, nor will health professionals need to register with the drug’s distributor, Celopharma, to prescribe or dispense it.
While medical professionals should have appropriate knowledge about the drug before prescribing it, the federal department said they will no longer be required to first complete a formal education program in its use.
However, one carry-over from the previous version of Health Canada’s prescribing guidelines is the mandatory requirement that women have an ultrasound to ensure they don’t have an ectopic pregnancy — one outside the uterus — and an assessment of the length of gestation.
Prasad said that could lead to serious delays in administering Mifegymiso, especially in regions where ultrasound services are limited, accessible only in hospitals or burdened by long waiting lists.
The Society of Obstetrician and Gynecologists of Canada has recommended the use of Mifegymiso as a safe alternative for early termination of a pregnancy when access to a surgical abortion is difficult.
Health Canada originally approved Mifegymiso in July 2015. The medication became available to Canadian women in January and its cost is now covered by several provinces.
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