Controversial abortion drug RU486 will be available within months for as little as $12 with a doctor's prescription after medical experts recommended it be added to the taxpayer-subsidised Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the listing would not lead to more abortions and the Government would talk to the drug's Australian sponsor, reproductive healthcare group Marie Stopes International, over pricing and safeguards. To the outrage of anti-abortion campaigners, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee yesterday recommended RU486 - also known as mifepristone - and its companion drug misoprostol be listed on the PBS for use by women up to seven weeks pregnant.
The committee said it offered "similar effectiveness and lower cost compared with surgical termination of pregnancy". The decision means that if Cabinet decides to add the drug to the PBS, the cost of an abortion for many women would fall by hundreds of dollars.
The two drugs needed for an abortion would cost $5.90 each for women with a concession card and $36.10 for non-cardholders, compared with the $300 to $800 charged for a surgical termination.
Ms Plibersek said the committee's recommendation was only the first step towards listing and she needed to confirm there was a steady and good quality supply of the drug, the price was cost effective and safety mechanisms were in place, such as extra training for doctors to prescribe the drug.
She denied the Government would politicise the listing to damage Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who blocked access to RU486 when he was health minister.
In 2006, a bipartisan group of female MPs and senators passed a conscience vote that removed Mr Abbott's veto over the drug.
Mr Abbott yesterday moved to allay fears he would cut the drug from the PBS if he became prime minister, saying he would "accept the advice of the technical experts".
Marie Stopes International Australia chief Maria Deveson Crabbe welcomed the recommendation.
But the Australian Christian Lobby said the drug should not be listed on the PBS.
Spokeswoman Wendy Francis said there were question marks over its safety, with Therapeutic Goods Administration figures last year showing more than 800 women had suffered an adverse reaction, and one had died.