Free, confidential access to medical abortions will make choosing to terminate a pregnancy safer for B.C. women, according to UBC associate Dr. Wendy Norman.
The province announced Tuesday that it would be making abortion drug Mifegymiso available at no cost in B.C., starting on Jan. 15.
The drug costs approximately $300 out-of-pocket.
“This is a huge advance,” said Norman, a principal investigator at the Women’s Health Research Institute at BC Women’s Hospital.
“This is a game changer.”
After the drug was approved, Ottawa looked into whether it should be covered by public health plans.
“In the spring, the [federal] agency that does the Common Drug Review on cost effectiveness recommended that this was cost effective and that the government should cover it.”
Medical abortion, Norman noted, has been available around the world for almost 30 years in more than 60 countries.
Canada only approved Mifegymiso in January 2017 and the first abortion using the drug was performed last Jan. 10.
While other drugs can be used in Canada for medical abortions, Norman said they’re less safe and effective, with only four per cent of women seeking abortions using them each year.
“They have a higher rate of needing surgical intervention if it doesn’t work and having more potential side effects,” said Norman. “By comparison, in northern European countries more than three-quarters of women seeking abortion use medical abortions.”
In B.C., however, the majority of women opt for surgical abortions out of a lack of other options.
“Women who are trying to decide whether to have a medical or surgical abortion should be making that decision based on their health, not on their postal code,” Norman said.
Equalizing access, ensuring privacy
Mifegymiso will be available at pharmacies across the province and can be prescribed by a family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Norman said that allowing women to make choices about their health in the privacy of a doctors office is key to ensuring access for women who want to stay discreet.
Women can avoid “going to a surgical clinic where they might be identified going in or out by protesters or others. Nobody needs to know what you’re talking to your own doctor or nurse about.”
Mifegymiso, which can be used within the first nine weeks of pregnancy, is a safer and easier to arrange option, Norman said.
“Abortion is safer every week earlier in the pregnancy and it’s always safer than carrying a pregnancy to term,” she said.
“If you’re able in your own community to access an early medical abortion, then this is safer than having to wait two to three weeks to make the arrangements to get into a city or to make an appointment at a clinic
Although recovery time is similar for both surgical and medical abortions, Norman said, medical abortions lack the travel time and can be planned at the least disruptive time.
“You can take [the drug] home and decide you want to start the medical abortion on a Friday evening and have your abortion happen over the weekend, which isn’t a choice when you’re trying to book surgery and their only spot might be a Tuesday afternoon,” said Norman.
“You might miss a day [of work] to travel there, a day while you’re there and a day or two afterwords before you can return to your work.”