The Mifegymiso abortion pill has been prescribed 74 times in New Brunswick
The pill is now supplied for free to medicare card holders
Mifegymiso, a pill that induces an abortion, has been available for free with a prescription in New Brunswick for medicare card holders since July 7.
As of Oct. 6, the drug has been given out 74 times at New Brunswick pharmacies.
New Brunswick is the first province to offer it for free with a prescription and valid medicare card.
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The pill terminates a pregnancy without the need for surgery up to 49 days after conception. Without insurance, it would cost about $350 per treatment.
Limitations to access
While it is being accessed, Beth Lyons, executive director of the New Brunswick Women's Council, said it is not necessarily easy to obtain.
"It's supposed to be accessible to you, you know that the government is willing to pay for it, but you just don't know what care providers to go to to actually get it," she said. "That's not the kind of information that's actually gathered conveniently in a list and made publicly available for folks."
Lyons said the Women's Council has received phone calls from women who want access to the drug but aren't sure how to go about it.
She said one reason behind the difficulty to find a doctor who will prescribe it is privacy and safety.
"The concern on the doctors and pharmacists' ends might be they don't want it to be out on a list that they're one of 'x' number of providers of medical abortion in the province," she said. "There's a lot of stigma that's attached to abortion and these physicians and pharmacists might have very real safety concerns."
A spokesperson for the department of health said Friday that all community pharmacies in New Brunswick can order and dispense Mifegymiso.
"Pharmacies may not keep an inventory of Mifegymiso but they can order it when they receive prescriptions," said Sarah Williams via email.
Barriers removed since introduction
Since July, some limitations on the pill's prescription have been eliminated by Health Canada.
Medical professionals were required to take a six-hour course on the drug, provided by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, to prescribe in July.
Forty-one doctors had taken the course at that time.
Since then, the requirement has been lifted by Health Canada, although the society has trained 65 New Brunswick medical professionals as of September.
"We still offer the course, and health care professionals are still taking it as it is a credited course, but it is not mandatory for prescription or dispensing," said society representative Anne Trueman.
Additionally, Lyons said women are no longer required to take the first dose in the presence of their doctor as was the case when the pill was first covered in July.
Williams said doctors in New Brunswick are required to follow Health Canada's guidelines for prescribing the drug, and there are no additional rules in the province.
Driving down surgical abortions
Before Mifegymiso was distributed, an average of 85 surgical abortions were provided in New Brunswick each month.
We do think it will drive down the number of surgical abortions.- Beth Lyons, New Brunswick Women's Council
Horizon Health Network could not provide statistics showing that the number has changed since the introduction of the pill.
However Lyons said in theory, there will be a decrease, which will save money for the province.
"It isn't about increasing the number of abortions overall. It's about giving women and trans folks options for when they do want to terminate a pregnancy," Lyons said. "We do think it will drive down the number of surgical abortions, and surgical abortions are more costly, so it is a cost-saving measure for the province."
With files from Radio Canada