Pro-choice advocates say the high cost of an abortion drug that likely won't be covered by provincial health care plans will limit abortion access to Canadian women who don't live in major urban centres.
Mifegymiso, hailed as the gold-standard in abortion medication, is a set of two pills that allows women to terminate their pregnancies. It will become available in Canada this year—it's been in the US since 2000—and can be taken within the first 49 days of a pregnancy. But according to a report by the Globe and Mail, the company bringing the drug here, Celopharma, has opted out of an application process that is required for the drug to be covered by the provinces. Known as the Common Drug Review, the application would cost Celopharma $72,000. Not completing the process means Mifegymiso will only be covered by employment and private insurance, or will cost patients $300 out of pocket.
Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, told VICE the decision is "very disappointing."
"It means that the promise of improved access for women outside major centres in Canada won't be realized because many women won't be able to afford that fee," she said.
She noted that as a small company, Celopharma has likely already spent a good chunk of resources meeting "onerous Health Canada requirements" She suggested Health Canada step in to subsidize the $72,000 fee.
"It seems like a reasonable solution to me."
Celopharma told the Globe it is committed to bringing Mifegymiso to Canada but did not say why it pulled out of the Common Drug Review.
The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, which oversees the application process, has already said it will not waive the fee.
Carolyn Egan, founder of the Ontario Coalition of Abortion Clinics, said having Mifegymiso in Canada is a huge boon for abortion access here as it allows women to avoid surgical abortions that require them to go into a hospital or clinic. Though surgical abortions are free in Canada, they're hard to access in rural areas. On Prince Edward Island, they're not available at all (though that is changing soon.)
"From the very start we've always fought for full access, for free access to abortion for women," Egan told VICE. She said there are still some issues with Mifegymiso, including that it won't be available at pharmacies but only through doctors. However, having to pay out of pocket is a huge setback, she said, especially for young and low income women.
"It's quite disturbing that we might again go back to a time when only those who can afford it can access a procedure like this."
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