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Mifegyne, the French version of the treatment, first went on sale in France 29 years ago, but was only approved for sale in Canada in 2015. (AP)
Mifegyne, the French version of the treatment, first went on sale in France 29 years ago, but was only approved for sale in Canada in 2015. (AP)

Globe editorial

Why is getting the abortion pill to women such a complicated thing? Add to ...

Already the victims of Health Canada’s glacial bureaucracy, and of its paternalistic view of their ability to safely administer prescription drugs to themselves, Canadian women waiting to be able to use the most commonly prescribed medical abortion treatment in the world woke up to a fresh slap in the face on Monday.

It now appears that Mifegymiso will not be eligible for health-care coverage in most of the country, and that women will have to shell out $300 for the treatment when it becomes available later this fall. This is appalling. The government can and should take steps to remedy this.

This latest setback comes after Celopharma Inc., the company distributing Mifegymiso in Canada, declined to spend $72,000 on a review of the medication’s cost-effectiveness that is required before it can be covered by provincial health plans.

Quebec does the review for free, so there appears to be no barrier to the pill becoming publicly funded there. But the other nine provinces require the so-called Common Drug Review, which means that without it the cost of the treatment will have to be borne by users or their insurance companies.

This is absurd. Mifegymiso is a medical procedure just like a clinical abortion, which is funded by medicare.

The great advantage of Mifegymiso’s two-pill treatment is that it will make abortion available to all women in a sprawling country where clinics are often only found in urban areas. The World Health Organization includes mifepristone and misoprostol, the drugs in Mifegymiso, on its List of Essential Medicines.

Canada, though, has been ludicrously slow to approve the treatment, which first became available in France in 1987, and in the United States in 2000. When Health Canada finally approved it last year, it did so with restrictive conditions that require it be dispensed by doctors, not by pharmacists, on safety grounds. That was an insult to women who are perfectly able to administer the treatment themselves.

This latest bad news – that women will have to pay for a medical treatment to which they have a right – is the last straw. Ottawa should find a way to waive the cost of the Common Drug Review and make Mifegymiso available for free as quickly as possible.

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