Emergency Contraception in Canada

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Levonorgestrel, commonly known as “the morning after pill,” is an emergency hormonal contraceptive (EC) that can be used up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse to reduce the possibility of pregnancy. Currently in Canada, levonorgestrel is only available with a doctor’s prescription. But at long last, Canadian women may have better access to this important birth control measure.

Following an international trend, there is a proposal under review at Health Canada to change the regulatory status of EC from a prescription drug to a non-prescription product. This means that emergency contraception would be available in pharmacies without requiring a visit to the doctor or a doctor’s prescription.

The Canadian Women’s Health Network (CWHN) strongly endorses changing the status of EC from prescription to non-prescription status. However, we also urge that measures be taken to ensure equitable access to EC by making it available without pharmacist assistance. The proposal under review at the moment would allow EC “Schedule II status” only, which means that professional intervention of a pharmacist at the point of sale is required. This is also referred to as “behind the counter” status.

The CWHN believes that Schedule II status for EC will create a needless barrier, increase costs and reduce women’s privacy. We see no compelling medical argument to require contact with the pharmacist to obtain EC. The World Health Organization and other professional organizations recognize that EC is medically safe and requires no physical assessment, and that the dosage is the same for all women. So long as credible information about EC is provided at the point of sale, in plain language with accompanying pictures, and in a variety of languages, there is no need for pharmacist intervention.

See our detailed letter to the Therapeutic Products Directorate on emergency contraception – and add your voice to the debate by writing your own letter. For more information on the process to change the status of EC, visit: www.cwhn.ca or contact 1-888-818-9172 for details!