Perhaps the biggest challenge facing pro-life pharmacists at present is the development and promotion of various medications – many of them being billed as “contraceptives” – which, in fact, end human lives shortly after they begin.

Intensive research is currently underway on over 200 abortifacient agents, apart from the so-called morning-after pill and a combination of the drugs methotrexate and misoprostol. MAPs are being packaged as “emergency contraceptives,” but as Fr. Jim Whalen, national director of Priests for Life Canada, points out, “This is a chemical abortion, the killing of an unborn child. No amount of verbiage can change that.”

Methotrexate and misoprostol (M and M) appeared on the scene more recently. Methotrexate is injected first and works to inhibit cell growth and division, and interfere with the growth of the embryo and placenta by blocking the uptake of folic acid. Within seven days, misoprostol is given in a vaginal suppository, resulting in an abortion within two days.

The potential for wide-scale co-opting of pharmacists to distribute these medications is raised by the fact that a test program in the state of Washington organized by private and government groups is being run that involves 87 pharmacies. These pharmacies distribute MAPs to walk-in customers for $35, with no prescription necessary. Between March and July, the pharmacies filled 2,700 orders for MAPs.

“We’re absolutely floored by the demand,” gushed Don Downing, a spokesman for the Washington State Pharmacists Association. “We’ve clearly been underestimating the unmet need out there.” The program’s officials note that demand has been stoked by an ad campaign, as well as the establishment of a toll-free hotline: 1-800-NOT-2-LATE.

Despite the push from some sectors, the drug industry has been reluctant to hop aboard the early-abortifacient bandwagon. The drug companies American Home Products Corp. and Schering AG (the latter of which makes oral contraceptives that were used in clinical trials for the MAP) want no part of the drug. The risk of litigation, uncertain profits and “abortion politics” have been cited as reasons for these companies shying away.

‘Substantial business’

However, Gynetics Inc. of Belle Meade, N.J. earlier this year tried to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its version of the MAP. “We believe it’s going to develop into what is for us a substatntial business,” said Gynetics chair and chief executive Roderick Mackenzie. Its efforts were rewarded when the FDA said the company could advertise and sell the medication by September.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the MAP has the potential to generate annual sales of $300 million. That might be one of the reasons that Planned Parenthood of New England, for one, is going all out to spread the word about “emergency contraception” with a $20,000 marketing effort, including a campaign at area colleges this fall. The Associated Press reports that the agency thinks every woman of child-bearing age should have a set of MAPs in her medicine cabinet.

That view is echoed by Dr. Phillip Stubblefield of Boston University Medical Centre, who is recommending that doctors prescribe birth control pills for women to keep at home as “emergency contraceptives.” His views come on the heels of a British study, published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine, which claimed that women who used MAPs correctly at home had no ill effects compared to women who went to see their doctors to get their pills.

Helping the promotional push for MAPs are television programs such as ER, which was lauded by the misnamed Kaiser Family Foundation for a positive portrayal of the MAP in an episode aired in April this year. The Foundation said ER’s coverage had the effect of increasing by one-third the number of people “who knew there is something a woman can do after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.”

But the effort to push MAPs and M and M abortions is being criticized by pro-life groups and others in the medical community. “Is this what we’ve come to?” asked American Life League president Judie Brown. “A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and a do-it-yourself abortion kit in every medicine cabinet? Morning-after pills do not prevent pregnancy. They kill babies.”

Those kinds of criticisms aren’t stopping the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, however. After the FDA allowed the sale and marketing of so-called emergency contraceptive kits on Sept. 2, PPFA said it would provide counselling and prescription services by telephone for the kits.