On April 20, the Common Drug Review recommended that provincial and territorial governments cover the cost for the abortion drug Mifegymiso, which abortion groups claim is both the “gold standard” for reproductive health services and cheaper than surgical abortions.
Most provincial governments will not fund drug regimens until the CDR gives its endorsement but New Brunswick had already announced earlier in the month it would make the abortion pill available free of charge to women in the province. Health Minister Victor Boudreau said, “our government is ensuring that financial barriers do not stand in the way of a women’s right to choose.”
All surgical abortions have been covered by the province’s health system since the Liberal government of Brian Gallant campaigned in 2014 to expand abortion services in the province. Previously, they were only covered in hospitals when two doctors signed off on the procedure.
The same day the CDR made its recommendation, the NDP government in Alberta said it would offer the abortion drug free-of-charge to residents. Tim Kulak, a spokesman for Alberta Health, told The Globe and Mail, “the Alberta government strongly supports women’s reproductive health options.”
The CDR said it looked at only five studies of the abortion pill and found that it was effective in its intended use (to kill preborn babies), presented minimal health risk, and was cost-effective compared to surgical abortion. The CDR report said no women have died who have taken the drug according to the studies they examined, and that serious side-effects were reported in only one study.
Johanne Brownrigg, a lobbyist for Campaign Life Coalition, told the Globe and Mail, “when you weigh the side-effects and you weigh the costs, it’s dumb-founding that this is the direction the report would recommend.” Brownrigg told The Interim that the CDR should have looked more broadly than the five studies they chose because the Centers for Disease Control in the United States has registered abortion drug deaths and the adverse effects of Mifegymiso are well-documented. Furthermore, none of the studies looked at the long-term side-effects of the abortion pill as the longest duration for any study CDR looked at was six weeks.
The National Abortion Federation, which represents abortionists in Canada and the United States, applauded the CDR announcement, with president Vicki Saporta predicting an increase in abortions in rural areas.
The CDR analyzed the costs and concluded an abortion with Mifegymiso will be $610, not $300 as most media reports claim, because it requires two doctor’s visits and an ultrasound. CDR said at $610, the abortion drug will be slightly more expensive than surgical abortions carried out in free-standing abortuaries, but significantly cheaper than those committed in hospitals.
Provincial health plans typically do not fund drugs until CDR recommends reimbursement. Some provinces may still wait until the Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance negotiates a lower price for bulk purchasing of the drug.
Neither Alberta nor New Brunswick have committed to a timeline to pay for chemical abortions.