Quebec becomes fourth province to offer no-cost abortion pills

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette announced on July 6 that the abortion pill will be available for free to Quebec residents by the fall. “The government of Quebec has always been in favour of the right of women to choose, particularly in regards to abortion,” said Barrette.

A prescription for the abortion drug Mifegymiso, or RU-486, is estimated to cost about $300, although with doctor visits and follow-up, it is expected to be roughly similar to the cost of a surgical abortion, in the $800 range. Barrette said, “We would have gone forward with this decision even if the price was on average a higher cost than the regular surgical procedure.”

Mifegymiso has been approved for use in Canada for more than a year but was not widely available until January of this year and not approved for provincial drug coverage until April 20 when the Common Drug Review gave its okay to the two-pill regimen.

CBC Montreal reported “Quebec’s Health Ministry recently negotiated a bulk price for the drug with the manufacturer on behalf of all provinces but would not reveal the price when asked by CBC News, citing confidentiality.”

Barrette said the Health Ministry decided to cover Mifegymiso after the department’s own analysis determined the drug was efficient and safe. “The abortion pill is an additional option, among the methods for voluntarily ending a pregnancy, that has certain advantages for women,” said Barrette.

During Canadian clinical trials in 2001, a woman died and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the drug’s side-effects can include hemorrhagic shock, infection, and long-term infertility.

Barrette said that while the Quebec College of Physicians are still finalizing how the drug will be administered, the drug will be limited to women who are less than 49 days pregnant and undergo an ultrasound to ensure they do not have an ectopic pregnancy, and that there must be a follow-up appointment. Abortion advocates are lobbying Health Canada to remove similar restrictions on administering the drug. Patricia Larue, director of the Clinique des femmes de l’Outaouais in Gatineau, told the Ottawa Sun that she would like to see all the restrictions lifted.

Barrette said the restrictions are necessary to monitor complications.

Quebec’s health insurance plan, RAMQ, joins taxpayer-funded plans in Alberta, New Brunswick, and Ontario in covering the abortion drug. Under most circumstances, provincial drug plans cover pharmaceutical drugs for low-income residents and seniors. In April, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government announced the creation of a new provincial program that will provide prescription drugs at no cost for children and young adults up to the age of 25. The program will cover Mifegymiso.

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