Abortion pill available at HSC in Winnipeg — but patients will pay

Abortion pill available at HSC in Winnipeg — but patients will pay

The abortion pill Mifegymiso is now available by prescription in Winnipeg, CBC News has learned.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority confirmed Wednesday the drug is now available at Health Sciences Centre's Women's Hospital. One practitioner in its outpatient clinic, who the WRHA did not identify, will be able to administer the drug — but patients will have to pay for the treatment for now.

"Health professionals are in the process of being trained on appropriate administration to prepare for when it is more widely available," a WRHA spokesperson said in an email statement.

"Patients who request a prescription will receive counselling and be screened for medical eligibility."

Women using Mifegymiso — which combines mifepristone to block the hormone progesterone and misoprostol to induce a miscarriage — are given four pills to take at home over a 48-hour period.

The treatment, which was approved by Health Canada in 2015, costs approximately $350 but is not currently covered by any drug plans, according to the WRHA.

A review process, administered by the Canadian Agency For Drugs And Technologies In Health, is currently underway. The agency will make a non-binding recommendation to Canadian provinces on whether it should reimburse patients for the cost of the drug combination.

Mifegymiso will only be available for women who are no more than seven weeks pregnant and who meet a number of health criteria.

Government not ready to commit funding

Rochelle Squires, the minister responsible for the status of women, said she couldn't commit to funding Mifegymiso through the province's Pharmacare program until the review is complete.

"That's a hypothetical and we will have that conversation when that Common Drug Review comes from Ottawa," she said.

The Opposition NDP implored the Progressive Conservatives to commit to both implementation and funding plans for the drug now, so the government is prepared to distribute it province-wide once the review is complete.

"If I was the health minister, if I was the status of women minister or if I was the premier of this province, I would be doing everything that I can to put into place a system to ensure women have full control over their reproductive health, which includes access to the abortion pill," said New Democrat MLA Nahanni Fontaine, who is the NDP's status of women critic.

"They need to be working on a distribution plan, they need to be ensuring doctors in Manitoba are signing up for training."

The road to the pill being widely available in Canada has been years in the making. Health Canada approved Mifegymiso in July 2015, after a 2½-year review. This was about 25 years after it was made available for women in France. It is approved in more than 60 countries, including the United States, where it was approved in 2000.

Before they can prescribe Mifegymiso, physicians currently have to complete training, which was partially designed by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

It is approved for use in Canada in the first seven weeks of pregnancy, although Celopharma Inc., the drug's Canadian distributor, has submitted a revised submission to Health Canada to extend that to nine weeks, as is allowed by regulations in other countries.

Celopharma Inc., did not return a request for comment to CBC News. Celopharma CEO Paula Tenenbaum told the Toronto Star last week that Mifegymiso had been shipped to British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta and Yukon.

Fontaine says the drug combination will eventually improve access for women in northern communities who don't have access to a surgical abortion.

"It is a game-changer for being able to stay in your community," she told CBC News.