When Health Canada okayed the abortion drug Mifegymiso in 2015 for distribution this year, it imposed conditions, including that physicians only dispense the drug (and not a pharmacist), that they could only prescribe the drug after taking an online course, and that the aborting patient return for a follow-up. The conditions were requested by the manufacturer, Linepharma International Limited, due to safety concerns. These are standard conditions in most countries where the abortion pill is available, although France requires a total of five doctor’s visits throughout the process.

Abortion activists and the British Columbia government have said these conditions place an undo burden on women seeking the abortion pill. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights executive director Sandeep Prasad wondered why “should abortion medication be subject to that scrutiny?”

The College of Physicians and Surgeons British Columbia, however, received Health Canada permission to get around the physician dispensing rule by encouraging its members to prescribe the drug for off-label uses – that is to prescribe the drug under the guise of another condition that the medication is not originally meant to treat.

The Globe and Mail reported that Health Canada’s chief medical officer Supriya Sharma replied to the College saying doctors are free to prescribe Mifegymiso in this manner but that Health Canada frowns upon the practice of off-label prescriptions to skirt conditions placed on their use. She stressed that doctors would still be liable for harmful side-effects of the drug.

The Globe reported that no other province has indicated it will follow B.C.’s lead.