Australia is well on its way to making publicly available mifepristone and misoprostol, two drugs that make up RU486, used for abortion up to 49 days after becoming pregnant. If you’ve never heard of it it might sound a little scary, and that’s the angle anti-choice activists and legislators love to promote, but the truth is RU486 has been around for more than 20 years and has been demonstrated to be very safe. It is approved for use in 38 countries and is the preferred method for medical abortion in many, including France.
According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, RU486 has been associated with proportionately fewer deaths than Tylenol or Viagra. It’s also less risky than going through a full-term pregnancy.
Gail Rhyno at ROAR notes that RU486 is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines, which catalogues 312 drugs considered international benchmarks in meeting “priority care needs”.
If a woman needs to terminate a pregnancy, it doesn’t make sense to prevent her from choosing this option. It allows a woman to make the decision with her family doctor and not have to face in many cases travelling long distances to a clinic where they may be subject to anti-choice harassment. Even more importantly, it has lower complication rates and is significantly cheaper than other forms of medical abortion. In Australia, public pharmaceutical coverage is likely to make RU486 available to all women for $36, and $12 for women who receive benefits.
So why the delay in Canada? In a country where many women still face barriers to accessing surgical abortion, it would certainly fill a need. It’s important to note there is an approved method of medical abortion in some places in Canada, but it’s not as efficient or effective. Health Canada’s procedures for approving drugs are stringent (as they should be), but the issue is not that the drug has gone through the process and failed; it has never been submitted to the final step for approval. Some RU486 advocates believe that what’s missing to get it through the process is political will and a greater commitment from Health Canada. Fern Hill at Dammit Janet points out that Health Canada’s handling of the recent Apotex birth control pill recall raised questions about the agency’s level of understanding of women’s reproductive health needs.
The best thing to do right now is for people who care about reproductive health to educate themselves on RU486 and to raise the issue with your family doctor or OB/GYN. It’s time for Canada to catch up with the rest of the world on making private abortion safer and more effective.
(photo of pills [not RU486] via Wikimedia Commons)