Free abortion pill provokes call for comprehensive sex ed, contraception strategy

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The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society is calling on the province to come up with a comprehensive strategy for women's access to contraception and sex education.

Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck applauded the government's decision to make the abortion pill Mifegymiso available to women free of charge.

But she said funding of an abortion pill doesn't add up to a strategy.

"We need a strategy so that women have better information available on choices of contraception," Murphy-Kaulbeck said. "We need to provide better sex education in the schools, working to reduce teenage pregnancy rates."

If there is better access to contraception and sex education, the need for medical and surgical abortions will decrease, she said.

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"Providing access to abortion is good but we need to work upstream so to speak," she said. 

Health Minister Victor Boudreau announced last week that any New Brunswick woman with a valid medicare card will be eligible to receive Mifegymiso at zero cost. The medication taken to end a pregnancy costs about $300.

Kelly Cormier, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, said anglophone and francophone school districts provide education about responsible behaviour related to sexuality.

"As part of the health curriculum, students require clear, reliable and accurate information to develop skills to make healthy choices in all areas of health," she said in an email to CBC News.

Cormier said the anglophone physical education and health curriculum for Grade 8 addresses becoming sexually active. The course includes topics such as contraception, abstinence, pregnancy, keeping the baby, adoption and abortion, and sexually transmitted infections.

The Grade 9 and 10 physical education and health curriculum also addresses contraception, pregnancy and infections.

Cormier said the personal development and career planning curriculum in Grades 9 and 10  was updated two years ago and includes topics related to diversity, healthy relationships, sexual health, sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as community resources that help maintain sexual health.

In the francophone sector, from Grade 6 onward, Cormier said, "the personal and social development curriculum addresses contraception and responsible behaviour related to sexuality in general.

Training expected to pick up

At the time of the announcement about Mifegymiso, only 24 doctors and pharmacists had completed or registered for the six-hour training required to prescribe the drug or dispense it.

​Murphy-Kaulbeck said now the government has decided to pay for the abortion pill, more women will request it, and more  physicians will take the online training. 

"It's a ripple-down effect," she said. "As requests go up, more physicians, I would expect, would receive the training to meet that access need."

Murphy-Kaulbeck added that physicians can choose whether they want to prescribe the drug.

 "As we move forward we'll also probably hear where there's access and where there's not," she said.  

The drug, also known as RU-486, went on the market in January, about a year and a half after Health Canada authorized its use for the medical termination of a pregnancy up to 49 days.

Pharmacists to play a key role

Paul Blanchard, executive director with the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, said regulations surrounding the medication are fluid at the moment.

"It's not clear yet if pharmacists can order this product, as they would normally through pharmacy distribution systems," Blanchard said in an email to CBC News.

But pharmacists can play a key role in the distribution and patient care associated with the drug to ensure it is provided in a safe and timely manner, Blanchard said.