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Almost 30 years after our close buddies France and Britain approved the usage of the so-called “abortion pill” RU-486, Canada is finally following suit.

Health Canada said yes to the sale and use of RU-486, nearly two-and-a-half years after the manufacturer’s application was submitted. Things move slowly up here, eh?

“The application has been before Health Canada since December 2012, so it is long overdue that they approve this very safe and effective method of early abortion care that millions of women around the world have been able to access since 1988,” said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation and its Canadian cousin, NAF Canada (both of which helped champion the availability of RU-486).

“No one can claim that they fast-tracked the approval process and didn’t very thoroughly and completely review the application.”

Better late than never, we suppose. But what is RU-486 and how can you get it? How does it work? Never fear, The Loop is here to help you out.

What is RU-486 and how does it work?

RU-486 contains two medications; one is the synthetic steroid mifepristone. Mifepristone interferes with the action of the body’s progesterone (the hormone that builds up the uterine lining to prepare for pregnancy), and causes fertilized eggs to not adhere to the uterine wall. Obviously, it’s not physically possible to get pregnant without the egg attaching to anything.

The second component is called misoprostol, which triggers uterine contractions and the explusion of the placenta or any fetus which may be developing. In combination, the two drugs effectively prevent the egg from attaching, and then flush it out of your system. RU-486 is widely accepted as the best-known option for abortion.

How do I get it in Canada?

RU-486 won’t be available until early 2016, so it’ll still be a while.

You need to get a prescription from your physician in order to get RU-486. It’s not the most comfortable topic, but only you know what’s right for you. The drug will be sold under the brand name Mifegymiso in Canada (could they make it any harder to pronounce?!), and it’s made by Linepharma International Ltd.

While some countries allow the drug to be dispensed by pharmacists, Health Canada has opted not to go that route. For the first several months, the majority of drug prescriptions will only be available through physicians who already provide abortion services, but the hope is, over time, that more doctors will participate.

What’s the time frame for taking RU-486?

Health Canada hasn’t specified its particular preference for time frame, but going by the Federal Drug Administration’s rules in the U.S. (yes, that’s right, even the U.S. had access to this pill before we did), RU-486 is approved for prescription for women up to 7 weeks pregnant (5 weeks since conception), or up to 49 days since a woman’s last menstrual period. In other words, the drug is for use only within the first trimester.

When taken properly, RU-486 is about 95 per cent effective — a high percentage for any drug. You need to note that it’s not 100 per cent effective, so there are instances where the pill will not work.

How is it different from the morning-after pill?

The morning-after pill is a completely different medication altogether. Used as an “emergency contraceptive,” it has to be taken within 72 hours after intercourse to prevent an egg from becoming fertilized or to stop a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. By the time a fertilized egg adheres to the uterus, it’s too late to take the morning-after pill.

Who can’t take RU-486?

As with any medication, there are contraindications, and certain members of the populace are excluded from taking the drug. It’s not recommended to take RU-486 if:

  • You had your last menstrual period more than 49 days ago
  • You have an IUD (intra-uterine device)
  • You’re experiencing an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy outside the uterus), as confirmed by your doctor
  • You have problems with your adrenal glands
  • You take blood-thinners or have a bleeding problem or hemophilia
  • You take certain steroid medications
  • You cannot return to see your doctor for two follow-up visits (planned vacation, illness, etc.)
  • You cannot easily get emergency medical help in the 2 weeks after you take the drug
  • You are allergic to mifepristone or misoprostol

Will I experience side effects?

It is a guarantee that, at the very least, you will suffer through some abdominal cramping and potential bleeding. Accompanying this symptom are other, less frequent side effects like nausea, headaches and vomiting.

As always, chat with your doctor about your plans to take this medication. For whatever reason, it may not be right for you.