A Toronto Transit Commission ad purports to tell the public the truth about the Morning After Pill. Just what is the “truth,” so prominently heralded by the Public Health Department? According to the ad, what they are promoting isn’t just a “morning after” pill. The so-called emergency “contraceptive” can be used for three days. They claim that it is a “safe, emergency method of preventing pregnancy.”

Is this pill a contraceptive, or is it really a form of chemical abortion? In order to decide, one must look at how the tablets work. “Estrogens in high doses prevent implantation of the fertilized ovum in experimental animals, but the exact mechanism of action is unknown.” (The Medical Letter On Drugs and Therapeutics, October 20, 1989) Most experts say that ht hormones in the pill can “delay ovulation – so there is no egg to fertilize, and alter the lining of the uterus so that it is inhospitable to a fertilized egg. In order words, the fertilized egg is not allowed to implant.” (The University Health Service, University of Chicago, 1995) So the truth is, this is not a contraceptive (i.e., preventing conception), but an abortifacient (chemical abortion).

Life begins at conception, when the egg and sperm unite. There is no debate overt his scientific fact; what is debated is the value given to early life.

Will distributing these pills reduce the pregnancy and abortion rates? Are there studies of results from areas such as Vancouver and Calgary where such public promotions have been aimed at teens? Apparently, none were offered.

The figures of the record number of abortions performed in Canada in 1994 – more than 106,000 – would seem to refute any claims that the “morning after” pill can lower pregnancy rates.

According to Statistics Canada, most abortions are done on women between the age of 19 and 35. After all, most university health centres, which cover this age population, have been dispensing these pills for over 15 years. Ryerson Health Centre’s Dr. Barr became the centre of criticism as far back as 1956 for dispensing the early version of the “morning after” pill. Young women wanted to know how safe these pills were. Unfortunately, the early pills contained DES, which caused a furore in the 70’s when cancers were detected in the offspring of women who had taken the emergency pill. The current pills don’t contain Des, but the long-term risks and side effects of these newer tablets are not known.

Pharmaceutical companies have so far resisted pressure to list “morning after” pills as a legitimate use of the hormones. Fear of liability and resulting lawsuits is a major reason. In the U.S., pharmaceutical companies are currently facing numerous costly court cases as a result of marketing Norplant, a birth control implant. They are also reluctant to enter “abortion politics,” another indicator from the pharmaceutical source that this is an abortifacient, not a true contraceptive.

The pill also is not recommended in women who have diabetes, severe migraines, as well as liver, heart and kidney disease. In addition, the manufacturer warns consumers not to take the hormones if they smoke.

Will young women who respond to the promotion of this “emergency” pill be given these facts? If the use of this regimen is so “safe,” why use it only for emergencies? Will young women be forced into unprepared or unwanted intimacy because this “back up” is available?

The reason given for the “morning after” pill ad campaign is to reduce teen pregnancies. Teen pregnancy, however, is not a disease or medical problem, but a social problem. It’s hard to see how the current as campaign fulfils a health mandate. You don’t solve social, economic problems by chemical means.

June Scandiffio is president of Toronto Right to Life.