British Columbia

'Abortion pill' restrictions go too far, professor says

Concerns are being raised about the restrictions being placed on a coming pill that ends pregnancies. A UBC professor says those restrictions are impractical and "demeaning."

Health Canada requires women to get an ultrasound, doctors to take a specialized course, and more

Mifegymiso, a.k.a. RU-486, was appproved for use in Canada in 2015, and will be available in July 2016. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

A so-called "abortion pill" that allows women to terminate an early pregnancy at home is expected to hit the market this summer, but concerns are being raised about restrictions on that pill.

The pill, known commercially as Mifegymiso or RU-486, needs to be taken in two steps within 49 days of conception. Once taken, it induces an abortion similar to a miscarriage.

But Health Canada rules say women must get an ultrasound before they take the pill, and only doctors who have taken an online course on how to administer the medication can prescribe and dispense it.

Plus, a doctor can also insist on witnessing a women take the first dose.

"Our hope is this really will allow women ... to [end a pregnancy] in the privacy and confidentiality of their relationship with their family doctor and their usual caregiver. It has huge potential for that," Wendy Norman, the University of British Columbia's chair in family planning public health research, told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"We're just worried that the restrictions on how it's done means that that's not going to be available for women."

'Demeaning' requirements

Norman says the fact that doctors may observe women taking the drug is highly unusual, and in her words, "demeaning."

Methadone is one of the few drugs that requires such a procedure.

"I cannot understand the need for that. There isn't a medical reason we would need that," she said.

"We know one out of three women have an abortion at some point in their life. … Are we really comparing them with people who've had a serious intravenous drug addiction over a long period of time?"

Norman said the requirement for doctors, not pharmacists, to dispense the drug, will be problematic in rural and remote areas.

"What we've heard from rural doctors, particularly, is they don't have any infrastructure to buy, sell, and stock a medicine," she said. "They aren't set up for that. It's pharmacies that have that advantage."

Health Canada responds

In a statement, Health Canada defended the requirements for the drug, noting doctors are required to dispense it in the U.S.A, U.K., France, Netherlands and Sweden.

"Medical pregnancy termination carries risks for women, which can be serious. Patients must have ready access to medical care following treatment in the event of adverse reactions or in case follow-up surgery is required," the statement read.

"It is for this reason that this medication is dispensed by physicians-only and patient information and mandatory follow-up are required."

Mifegymiso is expected to be available in Canada in July.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Restrictions on coming 'abortion pill' are 'demeaning' to women, prof says