Health Canada's approval of the abortion drug RU-486 will make it easier for women, especially those in rural and remote communities, to access an abortion, say health-care workers in Manitoba.
Health Canada said late Wednesday that it has approved the use of the drug — which will be marketed under the name Mifegymiso — to terminate pregnancies up to a gestational age of 49 days.
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Canadian women will need to obtain a prescription from a doctor to purchase the combination drug.
"Having access to that means that we will be able to give women more choices about how to access this procedure," Leigh Anne Caron, team manager of health services at Women's Health Clinic in Winnipeg, told CBC News on Thursday.
Abortions are currently performed as surgical procedures in clinics and hospitals in Winnipeg, which poses a challenge for women living outside the city, Caron said.
"If they can access it in their communities … they won't have to travel as far, there won't be as much co-ordination to actually come to Winnipeg, and there'll also be more confidentiality around the procedure," she said.
Mifegymiso contains two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. The former blocks production of the hormone progesterone, needed to sustain a pregnancy. The latter induces uterine contractions to expel the placenta and the fetus.
Caron said patients who take the drug would be under a doctor's care throughout the process.
"The pill is taken within the clinic, the client is observed for a few hours, they go home, then they come back again for follow-up, and the doctor will assess whether they how much follow-up they need," she explained.
Family physicians and OBGYNs will have to complete training on the safe use of the medication before they can prescribe it.
'Big plus' in remote communities, says nurse
While anti-abortion groups have expressed strong opposition to the drug's availability in Canada, some caregivers in remote communities are welcoming the change.
Sylvio Poitras, a registered nurse in the Berens River First Nation, said having the drug available in the fly-in community will save women in the remote community the challenge of having to travel to Winnipeg.
Poitras said about five or six women in the community seek abortions every year, and he works with the Women's Health Clinic to arrange for them to go to the capital city.
"It's a big plus if they can get it over here because it's mostly like they're alone in Winnipeg," he said.
In addition to accessing an abortion closer to home, women can also talk to the two mental health workers in the community if they need support, he said.
Mifegymiso is expected to be available for sale in winter 2016, according to the drug's manufacturer, London, U.K.-based Linepharma International Limited.
Caron said questions remain about who can access the drug in Canada, how it will be prescribed and how much it will cost.
The drug has been available since 1988 in France. It was approved for use in the United States in 2000 and is also available in more than 57 countries, according to the manufacturer.