The abortion drug, mifepristone (RU486) should be made nationally available to ensure all women have equal access to abortion services, especially those from rural areas and some ethnic groups, says Professor Caroline de Costa, an obstetrician and gynaecologist from James Cook University School of Medicine Cairns whose article is published in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.
Prof de Costa, and her colleagues, call for urgent reform of the current restrictions surrounding RU486 and its use for medical abortion.
Mifepristone is not currently licensed for use in Australia and medical practitioners need Authorised Prescriber status from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) before prescribing it. Prof de Costa and one of her colleagues are so far the only medical practitioners in Australia who have been granted permission to use the drug.
"Obtaining Authorised Prescriber status is of necessity a complex and protracted process," says Prof de Costa.
"It can nevertheless be said that, in approving mifepristone for our use, the TGA has concluded from the evidence provided that the drug is sufficiently safe and effective to be available for at least some Australian women."
Prof de Costa says overseas experience shows RU486 to be more effective than methotrexate (the other drug widely used overseas for medical abortions) and to have a shorter time frame for completion of the abortion process.
"Because of the current restrictions, we believe that women seeking medical abortion in Australia face barriers not experienced by women in other comparable countries," says Prof de Costa.
"The political debate surrounding the drug would appear to have had the effect of discouraging Australian drug manufacturing and distributing companies from seeking to market mifepristone in Australia.
"There is an urgent need for a more proactive approach from individual doctors, professional bodies, and Health Departments, at both state and federal levels, to make mifepristone widely used and accessible to every Australian woman faced with making the difficult decision about abortion for herself."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.