Canadian Physicians Group Warns of Dangers of
May 20, 2004
Responding to Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew's announcement on May 18 that Health Canada will move forward with allowing the "morning after pill" (MAP) to be sold without a doctor's prescription, Dr. Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, expressed concern that such a move could endanger the health of Canadian women and girls and raise serious issues regarding informed consent.
"The policy to make the 'morning after pill' available without a doctor's prescription puts women and girls at higher risk for disease and sexual health problems," said Dr. Johnston.
The "morning after pill" (MAP) is a multiple dose of an oral contraceptive, levonorgestrel, which is found in the birth control pill. Manufacturers have reduced the hormone content of oral contraceptives due to serious side effects and health risks. "Now women are being encouraged to use these same pills, in multiple doses, as post-coital 'contraception,'" Dr. Johnston said. "The potential long-term impact of these high hormone doses, especially when used repeatedly, is worrisome and not being adequately addressed."
The makers of the Plan-B MAP highlight on their website that it is "not recommended for routine use as a contraceptive." Yet there is no way to prevent misuse and abuse if readily available without a prescription.
"Physical and clinical examinations by a physician are essential to good healthcare: to counsel patients on how to reliably avoid pregnancy, to determine sexually-transmitted diseases and abusive or coercive relationships, and to discuss health risks," said Dr. Johnston. "MAP does not protect against STDs and instead of preventing a pregnancy, may terminate it. Such serious issues cannot be adequately addressed at a pharmacist's counter."
MAP can function in one of three ways: by preventing ovulation; by preventing fertilization; or if fertilization has already occurred, it may prevent the newly created human being from implanting in the uterus, thus terminating the pregnancy. "The common description of the MAP as emergency contraception fails to accurately describe its possible abortifacient action and is misleading the public," Dr. Johnston said. "The confusion is aggravated by the current attempt to re-define pregnancy as occurring after implantation. It is a basic fact of human embryology that life begins at fertilization. Potential users of MAP must be told that this drug may abort a pregnancy so that they can make an informed decision. Will this message be communicated to them at the counter?"
On May 6, the US Food and Drug Administration rejected a plan to make MAP available over the counter at American pharmacies, citing a concern that it might be unsafe for girls under 16. "Does the Health Minister not have similar concerns about our Canadian adolescents? We urge the Minister to put the health of Canadian women and girls before political ideology and commercial interests and reject any attempt to distribute this potentially harmful abortifacient in Canada without a doctor's prescription."