June 28, 2022

-Global News

Canada’s abortion pill manufacturer says it is increasing supplies of Mifegymiso amid growing demand in this country and questions over what the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade will be.

That comes as one sexual health provider says increasing access to the abortion pill — which can be taken up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy — will help free up resources for people who need a surgical abortion.

That includes Canadians who would normally be sent to the U.S. for later-stage terminations due to fetal abnormalities or risk to the mother, as well as Americans without access to abortion.

Dana Tenenbaum is general manager of Canadian operations for EU-based Linepharma International. That’s the pharmaceutical company that both manufactures and distributes the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol that is sold under the brand name Mifegymiso in Canada.

He said while the company does not anticipate any shortages of the abortion pill as demand spikes in the U.S., it is increasing its supplies to make sure it can meet Canadian demands.

“It’s really business as usual for us. That being said, we’ve taken steps to increase our supply forecast. But it’s really to be seen,” Tenenbaum told Global News, adding that the company is not one of the suppliers of the abortion pill in the U.S. market and that Canada’s supply is manufactured in Europe.

“The reality is, people are likely going to travel more interstate than they would internationally. That being said, we, again, are increasing our supply forecast to, just in case, meet that demand, should it happen.”

Tenenbaum added: “Canadians will be taken care of.”

Health Canada told Global News it has no reports nor indications of shortages in the abortion pill.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned 50 years of precedent on Friday when it reversed Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established a constitutional right to abortion in that country.

The decision marked a devastating blow to equality rights and indicated the court may now turn its eye to overturning the right to access birth control and the right to same-sex marriage.

In the days since, doctors and reproductive rights advocates have shared a plethora of information online about how people in states that ban abortion can still access abortion pills by mail, leading to a surge in search traffic for websites offering the medication.

Google Trends data shows American search traffic for abortion pill-related terms are spiking, with searches for “what’s the earliest you can take an abortion pill” up 600 per cent, “fda abortion pill” up 550 per cent, and “hey jane” up 1,300 per cent.

Hey Jane is the name of an online abortion clinic that provides the pills by mail. It is one of a number of similar services gaining new profile in light of the Supreme Court ruling, which U.S. President Joe Biden has said does not give states the authority to prohibit the shipment of a federally-regulated medicine.

“Telehealth abortion pill” searches are up 300 per cent, while “share abortion pill” is a breakout search.

Abortion access ‘challenging’ in Canada: expert

While the U.S. Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in Canada, the decision comes at a time when abortion access in this country remains “challenging” for a variety of reasons, said Dr. Dustin Costescu.

Costescu, a sexual health specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, emphasized the warnings many in the field have raised over recent months that although abortion is legal at all stages of pregnancy in Canada, access to abortion remains a significant challenge.

That comes down to a lack of personnel, a lack of funding and a lack of accessible services as health-care systems continue to struggle more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“Patients may find that they have an abnormal pregnancy later than before because they can’t access the diagnostic tools that they need. They may not have access to birth control because they don’t have access to a primary care provider or nurse practitioner,” he said.

“Abortion access has become somewhat more challenging for us, and there’s a real potential for there to be further challenges for us if Americans are crossing the border and seeking services in our country.”

Canada’s health-care system and abortion services can be “easily overwhelmed,” Costescu added.

“So it’s going to be really important for us to look at ways to make sure there’s capacity in the system for our existing patients and, potentially, strategies to build surgical capacity if we have more later patients coming to Canada.”

The overwhelming majority of abortions take place in the first trimester, with more than 90 per cent of abortions in Canada done before 12 weeks of gestation. Mifegymiso, the abortion pill, can be taken up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy and after that point, abortions need to be done surgically.

There is a limited number of providers who will do abortions up to the 24-week mark in Canada, which Costescu said typically happens when individuals have not been able to access abortions earlier in their pregnancy due to living in remote communities, or because of health issues that emerge.

After 24 weeks, he said Canadian doctors typically have to send their patients to the U.S.

Part of the challenge is that anatomy scans that can identify problems with the fetus are only done at 20 weeks, at which point a pregnancy is approaching the point of viability — typically around 24 weeks, Costescu explained. If an abnormality is found, the patient then gets referred for more detailed scans and specialized assessment that can take further weeks.

Only after those are completed can the patient make a decision with their doctor about whether to take medication to induce a stillbirth, which Costescu said is often “traumatic,” or get a late-stage abortion.

Time, he said, is of the essence in abortions — and any strain on the Canadian health-care system will have ripple effects for the most vulnerable.

“A Canadian who chooses the abortion pill might make capacity for surgery for either another Canadian or even an American to come over, and they may have a later case,” he said.

“So we have to think of medical abortion as one of our solutions to this problem, in addition to the one that we have to keep a very close eye on to make sure we have ongoing supply.”