Free abortion pill launches Thursday, but good luck getting one in Ottawa

The program launched Thursday and only two doctors in the capital region are licensed to prescribe the pill. Of the five pharmacies contacted, none carried the pill.

Mifegymiso is a combination of 2 drugs used to medically terminate pregnancy

Only two doctors in Ottawa are licensed to prescribe the pill right now. (CBC)

A new program to provide free abortion pills has been launched in Ontario, but good luck getting a hold of one in Ottawa. 

Mifegymiso, also known as RU-486, is a combination of two drugs used to medically terminate a pregnancy. 

The pill can be taken up to seven weeks from a woman's last period and is considered a safe alternative to surgical abortion, according to the province. 

Last week, in a media release, the Ontario government said the pill would be free for women with a valid health card and a prescription from their doctor as of August 10.

The program launched Thursday but so far only two doctors in the capital region are licensed to prescribe the pill. Of the five pharmacies CBC News contacted, none carried the pill. 

Free, but not available

Plans to make the pill barrier free encountered hurdles before the project even launched. 

"The pill has been available in Ottawa for a few months now, [but] there's only a few pharmacies that offer it," said Laura Colella, co-president of Planned Parenthood Ottawa. 

"The pill may be free, it's just not available."

Planned Parenthood has been working to get more doctors trained to advise women on the pill, she said. 

The province has said it intends to make mandatory training available for practitioners who want to prescribe Mifegymiso, but since the pill launched in January no more than those two Ottawa doctors have participated. 

Mifegymiso can be used to terminate early pregnancies, up to seven weeks after a woman's last period. (CBC)
Courses, including how to monitor the health of a patient while they take the pill, can be done online for $50, and take no longer than 30 minutes to complete. 

About 1800 health-care providers have completed the training province-wide, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC).

"It's early days. There is a period of transition," said Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins on Thursday. 

"This is really about access. We're working hard to ensure that healthcare practitioners are aware that the pill is available."

Before Thursday, women could obtain a prescription for the pill, but the $350 bill was her responsibility. Now pharmacies will bill the ministry for the Mifegymiso pills they sell. 

1 in 3 women will have an abortion

Hoskins said the ministry is planning to increase accessibility to the pill, starting with training doctors. 

"I'm confident in the coming weeks and months we'll see a significant increase in the number of healthcare providers that are trained," he said. 

But while the number of doctors trained in administering the pill may increase, many women are in need of treatment now. They worry that being placed on a doctor's waitlist could push them over the seven-week limit for the treatment.

Research conducted by SOGC shows that one in three women will have an abortion by the time they are 45.

Though making the pill free is a step in the right direction, Colella said the accesibility issues still need to be addressed.

"What we're hoping is that anyone who needs the pill, both in Ottawa and across the province, can access it," she said. "There's a lot of work to be done."