Morning-after pill switches to non-prescription in Canada

Health Canada confirms women across the country will be able to access the 'morning after' emergency contraception without a prescription.

Women in Canada should soon have access to the morning-after pill without a doctor's prescription.

The drug levonorgestrel, sold under the brand name Plan B, has been approved for sale directly from pharmacies, Health Canada confirmed Wednesday.

The drug will be kept behind the counter.

It is considered 95 per cent effective at preventing unintended pregnancy if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, but has no effect on an established pregnancy.

The drug prevents pregnancy by preventing embryos from attaching to the wall of the uterus.

Health Canada's move follows British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec, where women can already access the contraceptive without a prescription.

Last month, researchers in B.C. found use of emergency contraception had doubled in the province since the pill became available without a prescription.

Under new federal rules, pharmacists will have to offer counselling about side-effects such as nausea and vomitting, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception to women requesting the drug.

Dr. Judith Soon of UBC, author of the study, noted a change to over-the-counter status would increase access but could also make it harder to track use of the drug, especially for government and employer health plans.

It is up to the provinces and territories to decide if they wish to move further and remove all restrictions on the drug, allowing women to access it without the help of the pharmacist.

Medical authorities, including the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Canadian Nurses Association, all supported Health Canada's move to not require a prescription for the emergency contraception.

Mary Ellen Douglas of Campaign Life Coalition said she's upset no one will discuss any moral concerns with girls seeking the drug.

"I can't believe these girls are going to be intensely concerned about what they're taking," said Douglas. "They're going to be thinking, 'I acted irresponsibly and I must make sure my mother doesn't find out. Now give me the pill.'"

Dr. Donna Stewart of the Ontario Women's Health Council said in Britain, where the drug has been available for 20 years, there has been no increase in women forgetting to use condoms to protect against sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS.

RU486, a drug that terminates pregnancy, is not approved for use in Canada.