TORONTO – A commentary in Canada’s leading medical journal says Canadian women lack access to the best known option for abortion.
The authors say Health Canada is currently studying an application to bring that option, a drug commonly known as RU-486, to the Canadian market.
They say women in 57 other countries have access to the drug and say it is important that the application is approved.
The drug, mifepristone, is used in combination with another medication already approved for other indications in Canada.
The treatment essentially induces a miscarriage, avoiding the need for a surgical abortion in most cases.
RU-486 has been available in France since 1988, in Britain since 1991 and in the United States since 2000.
A manufacturer would have to apply to bring the drug to market in Canada. And Dr. Sheila Dunn, one of the authors of the commentary published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said it’s not clear why no one has applied to market mifepristone in Canadian before now.
“We don’t ever know the reasons that people have for not bringing drugs into different countries,” says Dunn, a family physician who specializes in reproductive medicine at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital.
“Some of them will be economic. And sometimes if it’s going to be really onerous to actually get drug approval and the economic margins are not going to be such that makes it worthwhile for someone to do that, that may be a deterrent.”
There were clinical trials of the drug in Canada early in the last decade. But one was stopped after a woman who received the drug died of a bacterial infection.
Several other such deaths were reported in the United States and Europe, Dunn said. Investigations could find no explanation for the cluster of what are normally rare infections, she said, adding that there have been none in recent years.
Millions of women have used mifepristone to terminate early pregnancies, wrote Dunn and co-author Rebecca Cook, a lawyer and expert in reproductive law at the University of Toronto.
Approval of the drug would improve access to abortion in parts of the country where women currently have to travel long distances for a surgical procedure, they argued, and would free up operating room time.