Bioethics Blogs

What Health Canada’s Approval of the Abortion Pill Means for Women

Beth Palmer discusses the potential for improved access to abortion with Mifepristone


Last month, Health Canada approved RU-486, also known as Mifepristone or, more colloquially, the abortion pill. Canada’s approval of the drug, a safe hormonal alternative to a surgical procedure that alleviates the burden on our health care system and provides women with a simpler option for terminating their pregnancy, has been called “long overdue.” RU-486 is currently available in 57 other countries, including France since 1988, Britain since 1991, the United States since 2000, Serbia and Montenegro since 2001, Portugal since 2005, and Italy since 2009.

RU-486 is listed on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines, where it is the only medicine ascribed the caveat of “where permitted under national law and where culturally acceptable.” There are no national laws restricting RU-486 in Canada’s criminal code, and abortion has been available in Canadian hospitals since 1969 and in free-standing clinics since 1988, so it is difficult to make the case for any legal or cultural barriers to permitting the drug.

The approval of the drug will dramatically improve access for Canadian women to abortion services in several ways. First, RU-486 has the potential to provide abortion services to women who would otherwise lack access to those services. Though abortion is legal in Canada – meaning it is not restricted by the Criminal Code of Canada – access remains uneven. There are no laws requiring abortion service to be provided, and so some women find themselves facing substantial barriers to access.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.