Canada experiencing shortage of abortion pill amid COVID-19 outbreak

OTTAWA — Canada is experiencing a shortage of the drug used for medical abortions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The drug, sold in Canada under the name Mifegymiso, first registered as experiencing a shortage on Feb. 6. The shortage was attributed to a delay in the shipping of the drug and was expected to be resolved by mid-February. However, the drug remains on backorder today and isn’t expected to reappear on store shelves that have run through their existing stock until next week.

Pharmaceutical orders are generally placed months in advance, according to Frédérique Chabot, the director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, an organization that helps women obtain information about their sexual and reproductive health, including access to abortion.

Because Mifegymiso is manufactured in Europe, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, the current shipment was stuck in Montreal as extra measures were put in place to ensure the safety of those dealing with the packages.

While public health officials and politicians confirmed to CTVNews.ca last week that abortion access will be maintained throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, at least one official encouraged women to opt for a medical rather than surgical abortion to encourage physical distancing.

“When clinically appropriate, we are recommending women choose medical termination over a surgical procedure in order to promote social distancing,” said Doug Dahl, a communications officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, in a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca.

A medical abortion is when a person takes a series of pills to terminate a pregnancy. With the medical option, the patient doesn’t need to head to a clinic or a doctor’s office the way they would for a surgical abortion.

If these pills aren’t available, women seeking to terminate a pregnancy would have to opt for the surgical option instead — an option that providers have ensured remains available, but one that involves less physical distancing.

Chabot said her organization hasn’t had too many calls from people impacted by the drug shortage.

“I’m sure it had an impact, but it was not across the board. So people are still accessing medical abortion right now. It’s not on pause,” Chabot said.

“I assume that it probably impacted regions where there’s less providers, so it’s less frequent that this is asked of the pharmacy so there’s many less of an impetus to stock up on Mifegymiso.”

Still, while Chabot said this shortage did not have a huge impact on women’s ability to access a medical abortion this time around, she warned that the demand for this drug will likely increase as this pandemic continues.

“At this point, everything is being rearranged to ensure that abortion is being treated as an essential service…it would have an impact, if there was a shortage, because it is recommended that a lot of abortion clinics move many of their appointments to do medical abortions instead of offering surgical,” Chabot said.

As a result of this change, Chabot says Canada needs to make sure it’s equipped to meet this demand.

“Plans must be put in place to make sure that we don’t suffer shortages in the next while, as Mifegymiso will play a big role in ensuring access to abortion in Canada,” Chabot said.

She also noted that tightened travel regulations and the push for physical distancing are creating new barriers for women who have to travel within Canada to access a surgical abortion.

“We must re-think how we provide these services across the board — and everyone needs to do their part,” Chabot said.

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