State News

Phil Scott looks to Canada as a source for abortion pill, but Vermont’s drug importation plan is stuck in bureaucracy

By Sarah Mearhoff/VTDigger

While federal litigation threatens access to a widely used abortion medication nationwide, Gov. Phil Scott is setting his sights north.

Lawmakers and abortion access advocates are scurrying to craft backup plans as a lawsuit making its way through the federal appeals process could revoke or severely tighten the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone, one of two medications used in tandem to induce an abortion. (The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, April 21, temporarily blocked lower court rulings, providing continued access to mifepristone as the legal process plays out.) 

Medication is the least invasive and most common method to carry out an abortion nationwide and in Vermont.

Asked about the lawsuit last week, Scott pointed to Vermont’s neighbor to the north as a beacon of hope. The Republican has historically supported efforts to expand abortion access and said he was “deeply disappointed’ by the fall of Roe v. Wade last summer.

“We are one of three states who have sought to be able to purchase drugs in Canada: ourselves, Colorado and Florida,” Scott said at an April 12 press conference. “And so we’re just waiting for approval from the feds to do so. Now might be the time when they give us the green light, instead of having us wait at the intersection. 

“So there are some alternatives that are maybe unique to Vermont. I think we’re going to be OK, but we’ll see.”

The idea hails from a law passed by the Legislature and signed by Scott in 2018, tasking Vermont’s Agency of Human Services with crafting a plan to purchase and import prescription drugs from Canada to Vermont.

The bill was written not with mifepristone in mind, but with lowering prescription drug costs for Vermonters. Nearly five years later, the law has taken on new meaning, presenting a potential avenue to maintain access to mifepristone in the state.

But importing mifepristone — or any drug, for that matter — from Canada appears to be a long way off. Despite passing the Legislature with broad support nearly five years ago, authorization and implementation of the program is stuck in the cogs of state and federal government bureaucracy.

The 2018 bill tasked Vermont’s Agency of Human Services with proposing a Canadian drug importation program to the FDA in 2019, and the agency did just that.

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