For immediate release:
Yesterday, Health Canada approved the use of the medical-abortion drug mifepristone (RU-486), which will increase the availability of medical abortion (sometimes referred to as medication abortion) across Canada. This medication is already available in nearly 60 countries and, in some cases, has been available for over 30 years.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights welcomes Health Canada’s decision to approve the use of mifepristone in Canada. Action Canada’s Executive Director, Sandeep Prasad, commented: “While we remain concerned that many people seeking to terminate a pregnancy will still face barriers in accessing abortion services, we are confident that the availability of mifepristone will lead to vastly improved access to a safe and effective method for early abortion in Canada.”
Abortion is legal across the country, yet access to a procedure considered to be essential is limited, a reality which disproportionately affects people in rural and remote areas, as well as people with limited resources. Only 16% of Canadian hospitals offer abortion services, many of which are located in urban areas and within 150 km of the US border. The availability of mifepristone, considered to be the gold standard for medical abortion, creates opportunity to increase equal access to what is part of a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services.
The combination regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol is listed as an essential drug by the World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s leading health body. According to the WHO, mifepristone followed by misoprostol is effective, safe and convenient in inducing medical abortion until 9 weeks of gestation. In Canada, the drug will available under the name ‘Mifegymiso’ and, for the time being, available only by prescription. In countries where mifepristone is available, upward of 50% of people opting to terminate their pregnancy choose medical abortion.
Action Canada is now looking to the Government of Canada to coordinate a range of stakeholders, including the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and relevant professional, training, certification and accreditation bodies to develop an effective implementation strategy, which includes clinical guidelines, with a particular focus on ensuring access to medical abortion in rural and remote areas that would include, at a minimum, training for new and existing family physicians. This would include efforts to maintain and improve access to a comprehensive and integrated package of sexual and reproductive health services, including both surgical and medical abortion. Such a strategy would also look at ways to ensure appropriate task-shifting in the provision of medical abortion allowing and training other health professionals, such as nurse practitioners and midwives, to provide these services, as outlined in guidance recently-released by the WHO.
Canada has an obligation to provide Canadians with the highest standard of care available. As a Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Canada is obligated to ensure that quality health services are both available and accessible.
Access to safe and legal abortion services is part of every person’s right to health and the human right of all people to make autonomous decisions about their bodies. Increased access to safe abortion in Canada with the approval of mifepristone is a welcome announcement that is long overdue.