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Alberta promises to offer universal access to the abortion pill

The first shipment of Mifegymiso is pictured at the Willow Women's Clinic in Vancouver on Jan. 20, 2017. Alberta is promising to offer the abortion pill free of charge to all women.

Ellen Wiebe

Alberta is promising to offer the abortion pill free of charge to all women.

The decision from Rachel Notley's NDP government makes Alberta the second province in Canada to say that it will offer universal access to Mifegymiso, a two-drug medical abortion kit that received an important endorsement from an expert committee on Thursday.

"The Alberta government strongly supports women's reproductive health options," Tim Kulak, a spokesman for Alberta Health, said in response to questions from The Globe and Mail. "In light of the [Common Drug Review] Canadian Drug Expert Committee's positive listing recommendation, Alberta will be taking steps to make this drug available free of charge to all women in Alberta who may need it."

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The province does not yet have a firm date for when public funding will take effect.

Other provincial governments canvassed by The Globe said they need more time to consider public funding for the medication, which became available in Canada in January, usually at a price of $300.

Right now, women have to pay that cost out-of-pocket unless they have a private health insurer that covers the drug.

Some provinces, including Manitoba and Ontario, said they would wait for the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA), which negotiates confidential deals on behalf of the provincial, territorial and federal public drug plans, to reach an agreement with Celopharma Inc., Mifegymiso's Canadian distributor.

"This [pCPA] process will occur before we make a decision whether to add Mifegymiso to our provincial drug formulary," a spokeswoman for the government of Manitoba said by e-mail.

Every province except New Brunswick – which earlier this month promised public funding for the abortion pill – has been saying for months that it would not move to cover Mifegymiso until the Common Drug Review, which advises the public drug plans on whether to cover new medications, weighed in.

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The CDR's expert committee released its final report on Thursday.

As first reported in The Globe, the document endorses public reimbursement for Mifegymiso because of its safe and effective record, and its cost competitiveness with surgical abortions.

"We're delighted. [The report] really is good news," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, which represents abortion providers in Canada and the United States. "Now I think we really will see [Mifegymiso] expanding to the more rural areas and it can finally live up to its promise of increasing women's access to very safe, effective abortion care."

Paula Tenenbaum, the president of Celopharma, also took the report as a reassuring sign. "I trust provinces will follow [the] recommendation and in fact cover this medically necessary medication for all women of Canada," she said by e-mail.

But not everyone welcomed the possibility of public funding for the abortion pill.

"Most provincial health-care plans are in a crisis situation and have been for decades," said Johanne Brownrigg, a lobbyist for the Campaign Life Coalition. "When you weigh the side effects [of Mifegymiso] and you weigh the costs, it's dumbfounding that this is the direction the report would recommend."

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The CDR report said that in five studies of mifepristone and misoprostol – the two drugs that make up Mifegymiso – no patients died or withdrew because of adverse effects. Serious adverse events were reported in only one of the studies.

The Justice Minister says the government is moving to eliminate laws which the courts have deemed unconstitutional. One such law is the statute on abortion, which remains on the books despite being struck down in 1988. The Canadian Press
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