Thursday, July 01, 2004

Emergency contraception would lower abortion rate

This is quoted from a Portable Document Format (PDF) file of the Canadian Medical Association Journal for June 22, 2004.

WOMEN’S HEALTH: Emergency contraception could lower abortion rate

Anti-abortion groups should welcome proposed new regulation allowing patients to access emergency contraception without a prescription, says the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

“Whatever you believe, it’s better to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than have an abortion,” executive vice-president Dr. André Lalonde told CMAJ.

In Canada, about 25% of all pregnancies (approximately 109 500) end in abortion each year. According to 2001 Statistics Canada figures, emergency contraception has the potential to prevent 106 418 abortions (including 19 936 among teenagers) annually. The US predicts it could halve demand.

“If you’re against abortion, this is a wonderful pill,” says Lalonde.

Emergency contraception, or the “morning after pill,” is sold in Canada as levonorgestrel (Plan B). If taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, it can prevent ovulation, or interfere with fertilization or implantation. Levonorgestrel is available without prescription in 31 countries and 5 US states.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family and other anti-abortion groups believe pregnancy begins with conception, not implantation. In a letter to Health Canada, the organization called levonorgestrel an “abortifacient.”

On May 18, the federal government announced it is amending regulations to make levonorgestrel a “behind-thecounter” product, available after consulting with a pharmacist. Stakeholders will have until mid-August to comment on the change, which should take effect this fall.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association is providing a mini-course for pharmacists on dispensing the drug. Levonorgestrel is already available behind the counter in BC, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

Days before Canada’s announcement, the US Food and Drug Administration ignored the recommendations of its scientific advisers and refused to make emergency contraception available without a prescription. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called the decision “a dark stain on the reputation of any evidence-based agency like the FDA.” — Barbara Sibbald, CMAJ

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