An abortion pill has been approved by Health Canada to terminate pregnancies up to the gestational age of 49 days (7 weeks). This medication has been available in France since 1988 and the U.S. since 2000 and is available in 57 other countries. The drug, marketed as Mifegymiso in Canada, is expected to be available by January 2016 and a prescription will be necessary to purchase it.
Mifegymiso is two drugs sold in combination. One works by blocking the production of the hormone progesterone which helps to sustain a pregnancy while the other causes uterine contractions. The effects of the drug are similar to an early stage miscarriage. These pills are not meant to replace surgical abortions. Rather, they are another option that people can choose.
These pills also have the potential to increase abortion access, especially for people who live in rural, remote and northern areas of Canada. Many people think that abortion services are accessible in Canada, however, many hospitals in Canada do not provide abortion services and many people in Canada live hours or days away from an abortion clinic.
According to the CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Ottawa, both OBGYNs and Family Physicians will be able to prescribe this drug once they complete the training on safe use of the medication. So although the approval of this medication is good news for Canadians, there are many unknowns at the moment. For example, how many physicians are going to complete the training? What will the pills cost? Will it be available free of charge to make it accessible to people with low income? Will health centres and emergency rooms provide it?
Even though the World Health Organization has this drug on its list of essential medicines (the minimum medicines needed for basic healthcare systems) many people do not agree with abortions. Research has shown that making abortions illegal does not prevent abortions, but it does make abortions less safe. Currently Canada has no laws surrounding abortion. It is regulated by the Canadian Medical Association and has been since 1988.
Although abortions have been decriminalized for nearly 30 years they remain stigmatized. This stigma prevents people from getting the knowledge and the support they need when making important health decisions. We need to destigmatize abortion to make it what it should be, a safe and accessible medical procedure. As Jason Biggs says in Orange is the New Black, “it’s not Voldemort, you can say it, abortion.”
For more information contact Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region.