Letter to the Federal Minister of Health on the morning after pill

Wednesday, November 26 2003

The Honourable A. Anne McLellan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Health
16th Floor, Brooke Claxton Building
Tunney’s Pasture
Postal Locator 0916A
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0K9

Dear Ms. McLellan:

It has come to our attention that Health Canada is proposing to make what is commonly known as “the morning after pill” or “emergency contraception” available without a prescription. We ask that this decision be reconsidered for the reasons set out below.

The information provided by Health Canada indicates that the pill either inhibits conception by preventing ovulation or inhibits implantation, if conception has already occurred. Pregnancy begins with conception not implantation. It is thus inaccurate to refer to this pill as emergency contraception, given its potential to act as an abortifacient.

Genetic science shows clearly that human life begins at conception, a fact accepted by many Canadians. Women have a right to know that what is described as “emergency contraception” may in reality be a form of early abortion. Is a pharmacy that is located in a drug store or grocery store the best place to communicate this vital information? At the very least, Health Canada’s information should be accurate.

A woman, and especially a teenager, who believes she is in need of “emergency contraception” is also in need of counselling, support, information about how the pill works, its physical and psychological side effects, the dangers of regular use, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and guidance about relationships. Can these needs be truly met in the context of a very busy, very public and perhaps impersonal pharmacy? Common sense would indicate that her needs cannot be met in these situations. In fact, such situations would deprive her of her right to know.

The morning after pill is a high risk multiple dose of an oral contraceptive that by definition is not intended for routine use. If this is the case, what health risks are women subjecting themselves to with one-time use of the pill? And what about those women who may have frequent unregulated recourse to it as a form of “emergency” contraception?

Pharmacists play a very important role in the health care system and countless patients benefit from their knowledge and services. There are, however, in this case too many ethical questions and issues related to the health of women and girls and their unborn children to leave in the hands of a pharmacist who may have little time and privacy to offer a woman in crisis. Is it really fair to put the pharmacist in this position?

Given that the morning after pill may act as an abortifacient, and because it may pose physical risks to women without in any way addressing the emotional and psychological distress they may be experiencing, we ask you to reconsider the proposal to make the morning after pill available “over the counter”. How can it possibly be in the best interests of Canadian women to make this pill widely available without accurate information from Health Canada and without adequate safeguards for women and their unborn children?


† Most Rev. Pierre Morissette
Bishop of Baie-Comeau
Chairperson of COLF