Pro-life leaders are sounding an alarm over the desire of a Canadian distributor and marketer of the only form of abortifacient “emergency contraceptive pills” (ECPs) officially available in this country to have the drug administered over-the-counter without a prescription.

An application by Montreal-based Paladin Labs Inc. to have its product, Plan B, taken off prescription was submitted to Health Canada on March 6. The application is reported to have been granted “priority review status,” and consequently, its approval as a non-prescription medication could come by late this fall.

That means Canadian pro-life advocates have to act quickly if they are to derail these plans.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and the Canadian Pharmacists Association have formally backed the application. They claim that easier access to the medications will lower the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

In a press release, Paladin also claimed that Plan B “will not terminate an existing pregnancy” but that’s an assertion that is scoffed at by Alliance for Life Ontario executive director Jakki Jeffs. “One of the things we can do is write to our MPs and provincial legislators and explain that Plan B is an abortifacient, no matter what anyone says,” she told The Interim. “We just have to write and demand that this thing not be given out like candy.”

Jeffs added that despite the pressure added by the likes of the obstetrician and gynecologist society and Planned Parenthood, she is optimistic that Plan B can be kept from over-the-counter status because of her experiences in combating a previous form of early abortifacient, Preven.

Preven was pulled from the market by its distributor, Shire Pharmaceuticals, because of poor sales.

Jeffs said pro-life advocates can take a number of actions to contest the sought-for status of Plan B as an over-the-counter drug. Apart from communicating with their MPs and provincial representatives, they can write to the federal minister of health, Anne McLellan, their provincial ministers of health and speak to their own pharmacists. They can also warn parents of reproductive-aged children about the potential dangers of the medication.

“When these kids get it over-the-counter, they will not be asked about their health history,” said Jeffs. “We don’t even know if the kids will be collecting (the drug) for themselves, or for somebody else. I don’t think there are guidelines in place … It’s horrendous, really. How is it going to affect these youngsters? How will they know what age these kids are? How will they know if there’s a health history that may be contraindicative with this type of stuff? Will the pharmacists be trained?”

Mike Izzotti, a co-ordinator of Pharmacists for Life International-Canada, agreed about the importance of quizzing local pharmacists on the use and effects of Plan B. “People should tell their pharmacists that they object entirely to (emergency contraception) being available without a prescription,” he told The Interim. “Something has to be done.”

In Ontario, a pilot study, costing about $400,000, on the distribution of early abortifacients through about 50 pharmacies in the Toronto area is due to finish its work in June 2003. But as with most things related to abortion issues, information about the study is hard to come by through official channels.

“You can’t get anything out of them,” said Jeffs, referring to her efforts to get information or results about the study.

Opponents of Plan B’s over-the-counter status can write to Health Minister Anne McLellan, and their own MPs, postage-free at: the House of Commons, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, K1A 0A6. Also be sure to contact your provincial health minister and the local member of your provincial legislature.

Those wishing to protest directly to the distributor of Plan B can write to: Paladin Labs Inc., 6111 Royalmount Ave., Suite 102, Montreal, Que., H4P 2T4. Or e-mail:

Boycotts of Paladin’s products are also a consideration. Some of its key products include: the testosterone patch Androderm; Antizol, a treatment for ethylene glycol and methanol poisonings; Valtaxin sterile solution; DepoCyt, a treatment for meningeal complications; and Dostinex, a medication to counter hyperprolactinemia. See the Paladin website at for more information on the company’s products.