Canada has been facing a shortage of its supply of Mifegymiso, the two-drug combination commonly known as the abortion pill, according to the manufacturer of the medication — though supplies are expected to become available next week.
People who can get pregnant have been unable to access the abortion pill in some parts of the country for the last two weeks, according to a spokesperson representing the pharmaceutical company Linepharma.
Linepharma manufactures Mifepristone and Misoprostol, which together are sold under the brand name Mifegymiso in Canada.
“Linepharma recognizes that there is a supply shortage of Mifegymiso and that some parts of the country have been unable to access the product over the past two weeks,” said a spokesperson representing the firm.
“There are several reasons that have contributed to this, but most crucially, Linepharma has experienced prolonged manufacturing delays that will be accounted for going forward … production of the combination Mifegymiso regimen has been increased and product will be available again next week.”
The delay resulted from multiple issues that the company says came to a head “simultaneously.”
“This is a very niche product that cannot be produced in the same volumes as most drug products, so when a delay occurs, it is felt acutely,” the spokesperson explained.
“The manufacturing site has been implementing changes to move from a manual process to a more automated one. We have not yet completely transitioned away from the manual process which has played a part in causing these delays.”
The abortion pill can be taken up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy and can help to free up resources for people who need or prefer a surgical abortion.
But each day without access to the abortion pill can push people out of the window during which they’re able to access a non-surgical abortion. And for people who passed the 10-week pregnancy mark during this two-week shortage of the abortion pill, the logistical hurdles for accessing abortion care grow.
“There’s a short window when access to Mifegymiso is possible to have an abortion,” said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.
“So if that means that someone is out of that window of time when they can access a medical abortion, after those two weeks, they may have to travel hundreds of kilometers to get to a center where a surgical abortion is available.”
That means “expenses, it means travel, it means leaving your community,” Chabot added.
“It really complicates access for a lot of people and reduces options for people.”
On top of that, the timing of the recent shortage means access to abortion care could be delayed by another week — even when the product returns to pharmacies and clinic shelves.
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“Many facilities will be closed from that week between Christmas and New Year’s, and so a delay now could have an impact into the new year,” said Jill Doctoroff, the executive director of the National Abortion Federation (NAF).
Meanwhile, in the last two weeks alone, she said the shortage has already “absolutely” taken a toll on people seeking abortion care.
Doctoroff said she’s received calls from abortion care providers to explore other non-surgical abortion options for their patients in light of the Mifegymiso shortage.
There are pregnant people in communities across Canada that “just cannot wait,” Doctoroff explained.
This is not the first time concerns about shortages of Mifegymiso have been raised.
Linepharma is the main manufacturer and distributor of the abortion pill for the Canadian market, and the company confirmed to Global News in June that it was ramping up supplies amid growing demand in this country and questions about what the fall of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. could mean for Canadians.
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Dana Tenenbaum, general manager of Canadian operations for the company, said Linepharma is not one of the suppliers of the abortion pill in the U.S. market and that Canada’s supply is manufactured in Europe.
Reproductive health providers say the recent supply issues have forced them to scramble.
“In our region, we have been able to find (Mifegymiso) for our clients at pharmacies who maintain stock and were not as impacted by the shortage. But it has meant more navigation for our team,” said TK Pritchard, executive director of The Shore Centre, a reproductive health clinic in Waterloo.
“We are having more challenges with the rural clients we support, where there are simply less pharmacies, and in communities where there are no pharmacies who stock (Mifegymiso).”
Pritchard said their understanding is that Linepharma “will have stock again by Monday.”
“We are hopeful the issue will resolve,” they said.
Several hours later, Pritchard added that pharmacies in both Waterloo and Kitchener have run out of Mifegymiso in stock that the clinic could access.
“We have had to send folks to neighbouring cities and are running out of options there as well,” they said.
Chabot and Doctoroff both raised concerns about the fact that one company’s production delays could so easily impact abortion access in Canada.
“We are seeing issues with pharmacies carrying (the abortion pill) even when there’s no shortages,” Chabot said.
“This is something that needs to be addressed. It should be carried by all pharmacies in all communities.”
Doctoroff echoed the concern.
“It’s an essential part of our health-care system to have this medication, and so we need to have an adequate supply,” she said.
“I know that are many pharmacies across the country that do not stock it.”
One in three people who can get pregnant will have an abortion in their lifetime, according to Chabot — and yet, abortion is “not treated” as the common procedure that it is.
“We’re seeing a breakdown of systems here that will have a major impact on people,” she added.
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly