Health Canada’s approval of the medical abortion pill in July 2015 finally gave Canadian women a less invasive option for terminating an unwanted pregnancy. The two-pill prescription is supposed to be available this November.
On #WorldContraceptionDay, here are five things you need to know about the medical abortion pill.
What it’s called
Mifegymiso. The two-drug regimen, which is known as RU-486 in the U.S., can be taken orally to terminate a pregnancy in its early stages—i.e. up to 49 gestational days, according to Health Canada. Two pills, one containing mifepristone and the other misoprostol, are taken orally over the course of a couple of days and work in combination to end a pregnancy. There’s just one caveat: before the pills are dispensed, an ultrasound is necessary to determine that the pregnancy is within the recommended gestational range of no more than 49 days, and that there is no risk of ectopic pregnancy. Also, a follow-up appointment is required seven to 14 days later to ensure the termination was successful.
How it works
The first pill, mifepristone, works by blocking the hormone progesterone. (Progesterone triggers the uterine lining to thicken, which provides a stable environment for a fertilized egg to develop. Without progesterone, the fertilized egg can’t attach to the uterus.) The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 to 48 hours later, and causes the womb to contract and expel the embryo. The combination is highly effective in inducing an abortion, with a 95- to 98-percent effectiveness rate.
The side effects
Mainly bleeding (up to 10 days), pain and cramping. Other side effects can or may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever/chills, headache, dizziness and weakness.
Where to get it
Currently only a doctor can dispense mifegymiso, a fact of concern to women’s health advocates who feel that it creates an unnecessary obstacle to access. There are some administrative hurdles that may make broader access to mifegymiso tricky, too. For one, doctors who want to dispense the drug are required to take an online course before they’re able to offer it to patients. Once approved, they’ll also have to figure out a process for stocking the pills and charging patients.
It’s pricey (for now)
The two-drug combination costs $300 and unfortunately it isn’t currently covered by most provincial health care plans, which means most women may have to pay for the pills themselves—or hope private insurance covers it. According to The Globe and Mail, the company that produces the pill chose not to comply with a pricey review process for publicly funded drugs, hence the barrier to provincial funding.