From News Ltd, ABC and Fairfax reports
This is despite 800 women already experiencing adverse effects from the drug, including 600 requiring surgery to remove the poisoned embryo after the drug cocktail failed to induce miscarriage.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee is widely expected to agree that controversial drug RU486 should be subsidised by the federal government.
This would mean that within months the price will drop from up to $800 to $5.90 for concession card holders for each of the two drugs needed for a medical abortion – $11.80 in total. They will cost up to $36.10 each for non-concession holders.
The “abortion pill” RU486, also known as mifepristone, used in conjunction with another drug, misoprostol, is for women who are up to seven weeks pregnant.
The drug was approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration last year.
Reproductive healthcare organisation Marie Stopes International has been pushing for RU486 to be taxpayer-funded.
Reproductive Choice Australia president Dr Leslie Cannold said she was thrilled the proper process had been followed and that women would “be able to make the decisions that are best for them” without financial barriers.
Medical abortions, as opposed to surgical abortions, can currently cost from $300 to $800 and are not available from many doctors.
Doctors need to do an extra training course to get prescribing rights – so doctors who are morally opposed to dispensing it would simply not take the course – and if the drug is more affordable it will become more widely available.
The pill causes a miscarriage within a day. It is successful in more than 95 per cent of cases but can have complications; the latest figures show more than 830 adverse events have been associated with its use and one Australian woman died from infection in 2010.
However, the World Health Organisation says the do-it-yourself abortion drug is less invasive and there is less chance of death and infection than with a surgical abortion, and they believe it should be available to all women.
Critics of RU486 say it will increase the number of abortions in Australia and have likened it to a “human pesticide”.
The Right to Life Association of SA president Michael Hall said making the drug more available would make abortions more common.
Right to Life Australia president Margaret Tighe wrote to the Greens last year calling the pill a “human pesticide”.
“This serves to illustrate that the present government wishes to further entrench the practice of the killing of unborn children by not only continuing the scandalous funding through Medicare of surgical abortions, but to ensure that the practice of abortion increases by the seemingly easy use of RU486,” she said.
NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, a firm advocate, said a listing was “long overdue” and called on Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to hurry and get the drug over the last hurdle by accepting the recommendations.
“For almost two decades, roadblocks have been thrown in the way of giving Australian women the same access to affordable medical abortion as others have in around 50 nations around the world,” she said.
Christian Lobby spokesman Lyle Shelton questioned the drug’s effects on women and said it was “a chemical designed to kill human embryos … it should not be encouraged, let alone subsidised by the taxpayer”.
Today he added: ”Obviously we are against abortion and the destruction of human life at all of its stages,” saying that was an ethical issue in itself.
If the PBAC recommends it should become taxpayer-funded, it will almost certainly be accepted by Ms Plibersek.
She has said in the past that RU486 meets safety, quality and efficacy standards and that she was “pleased that Marie Stopes is working to make this medicine, which is on the World Health Organisation list of essential medicines, more widely available to Australian women”.