Pro-life groups have criticized Health Canada for “caving in” to pressure in approving Depo-Provera (medroxyprogesterone acetate) as a contraceptive.

The federal health agency announced the approval in April. The product has been available in Canada for several years, but until now was not officially prescribed for birth-control purposes.

Depo-Provera is a synthetic hormone which prevents ovulation by interfering with the release of eggs from a woman’s ovaries. It is taken by injection once every three months.

The United States approved Depo-Provera as a contraceptive in 1992, despite numerous concerns about its long-term use. Approval was delayed due to fears that the chemicals were linked to an increased breast cancer risk. As well, some studies have shown a link between Depo-Provera and osteoporosis, a loss of bone density in females.

Pro-abortion groups say the contraceptive gives sexually active women one more choice in controlling fertility. They also say the product will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Pro-life organizations however, believe Health Canada was pressured to approve Depo-Provera as a contraceptive. They also claim the product has an abortifacient element.

According to Michael Iozzoti, co-ordinator of Pharmacists for Life Canada, Depo-Provera is not always successful in preventing ovulation. In such cases, the product acts as an abortifacient by rendering the lining of the female uterus becomes inhospitable to the fertilized egg.

In its recent newsletter, Toronto Right to Life describes Depo-Provera as “a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone. When injected … It prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. The procedure, however is not perfect, and sometimes an egg will be released, resulting in pregnancy. Because Depo-Provera also changes the lining of the uterus, implantation cannot occur, thus making it an abortifacient. This means that the tiny embryonic individual – unable to attach to his or her mother – will be flushed away, oftentimes without the mother’s knowledge.”

Bogomir Kuhar, co-ordinator of Pharmacists for Life International, said that prior to 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected several bids by Depo-Provera manufacturer Upjohn, to have the product approved as a contraceptive.

An official with the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada said Depo-Provera is expected to become as prevalent as the birth control pill, which is said to be used by about 70 million women throughout the world. Depo-Provera is already used by an estimated 30 million women in 100 countries. It has also been approved for use in France, Britain, Germany and Sweden.