The value of protests and boycotts by the pro-life movement was demonstrated recently when a British pharmaceutical company decided to discontinue sales of Preven, the so-called morning-after pill that has been referred to by its proponents as “emergency contraception,” but is regarded by pro-lifers as abortifacient.

Shire Inc., with its Canadian headquarters in Oakville, Ont., cited poor sales as the reason, noting that less than 10 per cent of its Preven kits had been sold since the medication hit the Canadian market in October 1999.

This was despite a drastic markdown in price from $22 to $5 and the fervent support of groups including Planned Parenthood and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. The medication had been the target of concerted protest and boycott efforts by pro-lifers.

“This is a huge disappointment for me,” sighed Joseph Rus, chief executive officer of Shire Canada Inc. “I’m totally puzzled. I’m just not sure if there’s anything at all that I could have done differently.” He estimated Shire will lose about $1.5 million on unsold kits.

Pro-lifers involved in pressuring Shire, however, couldn’t resist showing just a little glee at the news.

“We were happy to hear it and hope they are withdrawing it from the market,” said Mike Izzotti, a co-ordinator for Pharmacists for Life International-Canada, who, with other pro-life activists, was almost a weekly protester outside Shire’s headquarters. “But it looked like they would keep it on the market if sales were up. It doesn’t look like they’re concerned about the abortifacient effect.”

Izzotti noted that the struggle against abortifacient medications is far from over, with another regimen called Plan B poised to take the place vacated by Preven. That substance has been on the Canadian market since February 2000, and is produced by Montreal-based Paladin Labs.

“Plan B looks like it will be the drug of choice. It doesn’t cause as much nausea, but is still deadly for the embryo. We have to make that known to the public, as well as any other products that produce the same effects. There is a number of products coming out. Preven was probably the first of many drugs.”

Pro-abortion advocates were quick to try to put a positive spin on Shire’s decision, noting that the morning-after pill remains “readily available” in Canada. They also claimed pilot projects in which the pill is given out without prescription won’t be harmed – and Plan B is a better drug, anyway.

Protesters were at least a weekly presence outside Shire, while a boycott organized by Campaign Life Coalition urged Canadians not to purchase drugs manufactured or distributed by Shire or its predecessor, Roberts Pharmaceuticals. Izzotti thinks those efforts played a role in Shire’s decision, and Rus even acknowledged that “the vocal resistance of anti-abortion groups” was a potential factor.

Preven was essentially designed to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the mother’s uterus.

With attention now shifting to Plan B, Izzotti noted that Saskatchewan is moving to make that medication available on an over-the-counter basis by this April. “The people of Saskatchewan who are concerned about this should ask their pharmacists, and perhaps write to the College of Pharmacy, and see what they can find out about it.”

He added that one benefit arising out of the heightened profile given to abortifacients is that it is becoming clear the medications have been in use for some 20 to 30 years, though they were never indicated nor approved for that purpose.

Izzotti is urging pro-life Canadians to take advantage of Pharmacy Awareness Week, which is taking place March 5-11. He said it is a good opportunity to approach a local pharmacist and ask him or her about morning-after pills. “Pharmacists need to be asked the question: Are these things abortifacient? What is the true mechanism of action?”

Members of Parliament and the federal Health Protection Branch (which approved the abortifacient medications) should also be contacted on the issue. “We have to emphasize the deleterious effects of [morning-after pills], and not only on the child who doesn’t survive it. It’s basically a chemical attack on it. It pollutes the environment in which a child is going to embed and take his nutrition. People have to know that scientific embryology texts all agree that a human being begins when the sperm and the ovum join. You have a unique human being with a unique DNA. Preventing implantation is a death-causing procedure.”

There is also a risk to the mother, as scientists acknowledge they are not quite sure how morning-after pills exactly work.

Still, concerted efforts are underway to make morning-after pills as widely and easily available as possible. In the U.S., women’s health groups are pushing for over-the-counter availability such as in Washington state, where women can go to a pharmacy, have a 15-minute consultation with a pharmacist and walk away with morning-after pills. Pharmacists there are allowed to write and fill prescriptions for the medications.

On the Canadian side, last October British Columbia gave pharmacists the authority to provide morning-after pills without a doctor’s prescription. The staunchly pro-abortion provincial NDP government amended the Pharmacists, Pharmacy Operations and Drug Scheduling Act to include pharmacists as prescribers of morning-after pills.

Meanwhile, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is requesting the delisting of morning-after pills as prescription drugs. The process is expected to take about a year and a half. The request is unusual because it is usually drug manufacturers that seek changes in status for medications.

In another piece of good news from south of the border, a judge has ruled that an Ohio pharmacist fired from K-Mart for refusing to dispense a morning-after pill may continue with a lawsuit against the company. A trial is scheduled to begin in May.

“This is a major victory for the rights of conscience [and] has enormous implications for the growing practice of chemical- or drug-induced abortions,” said Francis J. Manion, senior counsel for the American Centre for Law and Justice.