Health Canada rules will keep abortion from the women who need it most

Doctors and pharmacists in B.C. have told Health Canada they will not be following the agency's guidelines on the dispensation of RU-486 - the abortion pill. It's a move UBC associate professor Wendy Norman applauds. She says Health Canada's guidelines are outdated and paternalistic.
In this 1995 file photo, inventor of the RU-486 abortion-inducing drug, Professor Emile-Etienne Beaulieu, holds the pills in Paris. More than 25 years later, the abortion pill is now available in Canada. (The Associated Press)
Listen9:22

If Canadian pharmacists can dispense methadone, why does Health Canada prevent them from dispensing the abortion pill? 

That is a question Dr. Wendy Norman, a family physician and an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, would like you to consider.

Norman argues the guidelines Health Canada has in place for the abortion pill — often called Mifepristone but marketed in Canada as Mifegymiso — are outdated and need to be reevaluated. 

She says the limiting factor for Health Canada is that its approval process is binary: it either approves or rejects a company's application for a product, but relies on the company's evidence for dispensation. 

So the fact that in 2016 Canada requires the doctors who prescribe the abortion pill also to dispense it is a result of how the French dealt with dispensation more than two decades ago.  

It's discordant with the way safe dispensing is done in Canada and the measures and crosschecks that are in place...and there's huge access implications. -Dr. Wendy Norman

Norman applauds a plan from regulators in B.C. to allow pharmacists in the province to dispense the drug. 

She argues if Canada wants to ensure safe, equal access to abortion then Health Canada's approval process needs to evolve.

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