British Columbia has announced it will pay for the so-called abortion pill starting Jan. 15, becoming the sixth province to provide free access to the drug.
Mifegymiso, also known as RU-486, can be used to terminate a pregnancy in the first nine weeks, the government said in a news release Tuesday.
It said the current cost of the drug is $300, and removing it will ensure women can access a safe, legal option to end a pregnancy.
Patients wanting a prescription must visit a doctor or nurse practitioner to get an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy is not ectopic, or outside the uterus.
Health Canada approved Mifegymiso in 2015, and it's the brand name for a combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, which are taken separately to prompt an abortion.
New Brunswick was the first province to provide universal access to the pill last July, and Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have also made it accessible for free.
Dr. Dorothy Shaw, vice-president of medical affairs for BC Women's Hospital and Health Centre in Vancouver, said health-care professionals, including family doctors, obstetrician-gynecologists, midwives and nurse practitioners are encouraged to complete an online education program about how the combination drug works and how to counsel women on what to expect after they've taken the medication.
"The earlier that we give medication for an abortion, or the earlier that we do a surgical abortion, the safer it is," Shaw said.
Darrah Teitel, spokeswoman for the group Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said coverage of the pill means more equitable access to abortion in rural and remote parts of Canada where surgical options don't exist.
While the abortion pill is available throughout the country, the cost can exceed $400, she said.
"With cost coverage, we also urge the provinces to do a lot of work in terms of spreading awareness, not only to pharmacists but also to health practitioners and to the public at large to let them know that this pill is available," Teitel said.
Stephanie Fennelly, spokeswoman for the Edmonton-based Wilberforce Project, which opposes abortion, said the drug shouldn't be promoted in rural areas, where women need better health care in general.
Women in crisis pregnancies also need financial resources and help parenting, Fennelly said.
"A lot of people are selecting abortion not because it's their first choice, but their last resort."
Fennelly called Mifegymiso dangerous, saying a Quebec woman died from taking it during a research trial in 2001.
However, Shaw said a subsequent investigation showed no link to the drug, and the woman's death was caused by an unrelated infection.