Australia to make the abortion pill easier to get

Yesterday, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration announced that RU486, the abortion pill, will soon be more widely available. RU486 has been legal in Australia for six years, but until now very few doctors – about 187 physicians in a country of 22 million people – could import or prescribe it.

Thanks to Marie Stopes International, that’s about to change. The ABC reports:

… an application by reproductive health group Marie Stopes International was successful, meaning it will now be more widely available.

The TGA says Marie Stopes International will be introducing the drug in a controlled way.

It says only medical practitioners recognised by the group as having completed appropriate training will be able to prescribe the medicines.

Another abortion drug, misoprostol, has also been placed on the register.

The Australian Medical Association says there will be plenty of safeguards around the wider distribution of the drug.

The limited availability of the drug has been a real problem. With limited access, Australian women have been forced to circumvent the law in order to obtain medical abortions. Two years ago, a court in Queensland heard the case of Tegan Leach, a woman whose boyfriend helped her to obtain RU486 from abroad and without a prescription. Leach and Sergie Brennan were found not guilty, and I suspect that the media attention and pro-choice public outcry around the case might have made Marie Stopes’ task a little easier.

That said, wider legal availability is only one piece of the puzzle. Without a government subsidy, the drug is going to be very expensive. Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon estimates that unsubsidized it could cost as much as AUD500, which will surely be an impossible sum for a lot of women. Rhiannon has stressed the importance of implementing a government subsidy, and Marie Stopes has said that it will move to apply to get the drug added to the list of government subsidized drugs “in due course.”

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