Not a bitter pill to swallow

Image by: Arwin Chan

The abortion pill mifepristone is approved in over 60 countries worldwide including the United States, most of Europe and Australia. But not in Canada.

It’s taken Health Canada more than 750 days and counting to approve the medication.

That’s the longest the department has ever taken to approve any medication in the last few years, especially for a drug that’s been used worldwide for more than two decades. Health Canada’s lack of an explanation for the delay isn’t only due to the red-tape mentality of the federal government.

It’s indicative of the general disregard for women’s health in this country, with particular flippancy towards reproductive health and abortion rights.

Access to abortion remains a major issue in Canada. Only 17 per cent of Ontario hospitals provide abortions, while provinces such as P.E.I. remain without a single clinic. New Brunswick only recently struck down legislation requiring women to receive permission from two doctors to have an abortion.

According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), who represents 80 per cent of Canada’s abortion providers, complications with the use of mifepristone are rare.

NAF has been trying to get the drug approved for years along with many Canadian doctors in order to make abortion more accessible in Canada.

Decades of medical research show the drug is safe. As the Globe and Mail reported, studies show that risk of death is higher with over-the-counter drugs such as antetaminophen and Viagra. Side effects, like with many daily-use medications, are rare.

Anti-abortion groups such as the Campaign Life Coalition fuel rumours of mifepristone’s “danger” without citing correct evidence.

But these anti-choice organizations aren’t where we should be looking for real information.

The World Health Organization has listed mifepristone as “essential” along with doctors worldwide who praise the drug. Countless studies hail the medication’s success.

More importantly, this drug could increase abortion access in Canada, which today remains sorely lacking.

With abortion clinics usually situated in major urban centres, women often have to travel far distances to receive surgical abortions, including out of province flights.

If mifepristone were available in Canada, women would be able to have abortions privately without the extra travel costs. It would allow a degree of discreetness and confidentiality, as abortion remains highly stigmatized.

Health Canada needs to give a clear explanation of why they’ve delayed the decision on this medication.

Canada doesn’t have to approve a medication simply because other countries have.

Yet, keeping Canadians in the dark as to why there’s a delay, what their process has been so far and what evidence they’re examining, gives the impression they aren’t as neutral a body as they claim to be.

Olivia is the Journal’s Opinions Editor. She’s a fourth-year history major.


Abortion, health canada, mifepristone, Ontario, Pill

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