Health Canada set to make decision concerning the legalization of abortion drug RU-486

Photo credit:  alexindigo on Flickr

The year 2014 is looking to be a massive battleground in Canada when it comes to issues of life. Not only is the euthanasia debate coming to front and center stage this year, with the country arguably set to overhaul its previous ban on the practice, but Health Canada is also slated to make its decision on whether to legalize the abortion drug RU-486.

The drug, which interferes with the hormones necessary to sustain pregnancy, is used to force miscarriages during the first trimester. Questions have arisen regarding the safety of the drug itself, as well as the way it is used, as at least fifteen women have died in the last two decades. Despite significant concern, however, the drug has become legal in numerous countries and is likely to receive approval in Canada as well.

It has been a lengthy process for Health Canada. Clinical trials of the medication were halted in 2001 when a woman died of sepsis when she participated in the trial, took the pill, and received an incomplete abortion. Trials eventually resumed, however, putting Health Canada in a position to consider RU-486’s approval in December of 2012. The Department seems to have dragged its feet in the process, initially telling Parliament that an application for approval had not been made (an error that later required correction), and then taking more than a year in considering the petition, when average review time rarely exceeds nine months.

A second drug, known as methotrexate, is currently already available in Canada to prescribe off-label to abort pregnancies up to seven weeks’ gestation, but RU-486 would extend the window for chemical abortions by another two weeks, up to nine. Proponents argue that the move is necessary, as abortion clinics can be sparse in some areas of Canada, leaving women with not enough convenient abortion options. Mary Ellen Douglas, however, then national organizer for the Campaign Life Coalition, points to concerns about the safety of the drug and plans to center the organization’s March for Life rally on Parliament Hill around the drug and its controversial expansion of abortion. “It is pregnancy termination. It is abortion … and of course we wouldn’t want it for that reason,” Douglas explains.

If the drug is approved in Canada, citizens can expect wide availability with little effort made to curtail its use. While much can be done to attempt to limit the impact of the drug, including measures taken in many areas of the United States, such as prohibiting telemed abortions and requiring the drug to be prescribed in accordance with its FDA label, among other measures, Canada has yet to pass any laws regulating abortion, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to affirm his promise to ignore the issue.

According to Harper, issues of life are simply “not the priority of the Canadian people.” For the sake of the innocent and defenseless, let us hope for an uprising that will very much prove otherwise.

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