Stigmatization of abortion, along with factors such as high cost, complicates the process of having an abortion. (Courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.)
The Australian government announced today that it will most likely add RU-486, the abortion pill, to the list of drugs that are heavily subsidized under the country’s universal healthcare system.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, which was charged with reviewing the inclusion of the drug to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, advised the health minister to move ahead, which she said she would do after ensuring that Australia has “a steady, good-quality supply of the drug” and “that there is a cost-effective price of the drug.”
In the United States, RU-486, which also goes by the name mifepristone or misoprostol, is used for abortions until the nine-week mark, after which a surgical abortion is required (RU-486 should not be confused with emergency contraception, also known as “the morning-after pill,” which is not an abortifacient). In Australia, medical abortion is legal in all states, but that’s a recent development: The pill was effectively banned until 2006. Now that it’s legal, it is still prohibitively expensive for many patients, costing anywhere between $300 and $800.
If it makes the Benefits Scheme list, that figure will fall vertiginously, to between $12 and $36.
Meanwhile, in the United States, antichoice lawmakers continue to chip away at abortion access. While it’s technhically still legal to get an abortion, in many places it is all but impossible. The clinic is far away. The procedure isn’t covered by Medicaid or your private health insurer. You can’t afford to take off from work the time required to attend the mandatory pre-abortion “counseling” session, where the doctor gives you a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound and reads a state-mandated script about the unique life you are ending, and wait out the legally required waiting period between that session and the actual procedure. There’s a crowd of screaming protestors outside the clinic, holding up posters of bloody full-term fetuses and calling you a murderer. You’re a teenager who isn’t able to secure parental consent, and a judge won’t grant you an exception. Legal, yes. But not accessible, unless you’re one of the lucky ones.
The abortion pill answers a lot of those concerns, and is especially valuable to patients living in isolated areas, where the nearest clinic or hospital is hundreds of miles away. It can take longer than a surgical procedure, and there is a recovery period, but it is far less invasive for the patient and does not require the services of a surgeon or even an OB/GYN: A GP can prescribe it.
The question, of course, is whether a patient can afford to fill that prescription. In the United States, the pill currently costs about as much as it does in Australia, and here as in Australia, that’s simply too much for many patients.