British Columbia

B.C. woman claims she became pregnant before advisory for birth-control pills was issued

Taylor MacKinnon is pregnant at 23 and blames Pfizer Canada, whose Alesse 21 and 28 birth control pills were subject to a public advisory in December 2017.

Proposed class action takes aim at Pfizer over Alesse 21 and 28

Taylor MacKinnon is the lead plaintiff in a proposed class action lawsuit against Pfizer Canada Inc and Wyeth Canada. (Taylor MacKinnon)

Taylor MacKinnon says she never imagined she'd be pregnant at 23 years old.

She says she has always wanted children but assumed that would come when she and her partner were ready and settled in their careers.

Instead, she says she's found herself with an unplanned pregnancy — and the Victoria woman is blaming one of the country's largest pharmaceutical companies. Pfizer Canada manufactures Alesse, which was MacKinnon's birth control of choice for four years.

"Becoming pregnant while taking Alesse has impacted my life and my partner's life, as I am now less than a year out of school with a large student loan, and he is only just completing university this spring," said MacKinnon.

On Dec.1, 2017, Health Canada issued a public advisory for Alesse 21 and Alesse 28 birth control pills. It said certain affected packages may contain broken or smaller than normal pills, which could reduce their effectiveness.

Health Canada issued public advisories for Alesse 21 and Alesse 28 birth control pills on Dec. 1, 2017.

The notice of civil claim says MacKinnon refilled her prescription in October and got a call from her pharmacy after the advisory was issued. About a week-and-a-half later, she discovered she was pregnant and that it happened near the end of November.

"It is just kind of scary. I might have not taken those pills had I known sooner," said MacKinnon.

Lawsuit claims negligence

The proposed lawsuit, filed by Rice Harbut Elliott LLP, claims Pfizer Canada was negligent and fell short of ensuring Alesse 21 and Alesse 28 were manufactured to product standards. It also accuses the company of failing to implement a timely advisory once the risks of the pills' reduced effectiveness were known to them.

"Birth control affords women reproductive independence and security over their own body. Women relied on Pfizer to deliver birth control to them, that they paid for, that wasn't effective," said John Rice, one of the lawyers representing MacKinnon.

None of the allegations has been proven in court and the proposed lawsuit still needs to be certified as a class action by a judge. MacKinnon is seeking damages, including loss of both past and prospective income, cost of future care and medical and out-of-pocket expenses.

This photo of the Alesse 28 blister pack shows a broken pill, circled in red. (Health Canada)

If the lawsuit is certified as a class action, Rice Harbut Elliott LLP believes there will be others in Canada who would join it.

In the meantime, MacKinnon and her partner have chosen to keep their child. They say despite the challenges the decision may pose financially, the pair is looking forward to welcoming their new baby girl in August.


  • A previous version of this story stated that Alesse 21 and Alesse 28 birth control pills were subject to a recall notice. They were, in fact, subject to a public advisory notice.
    May 08, 2018 10:08 AM PT


Anita Bathe

Co-host, CBC Vancouver News at 6pm

Anita Bathe is co-host of CBC Vancouver's flagship newscast. She remains committed to working in the field, telling stories that matter and giving citizens a voice. Bathe is a multiple RTDNA award winner, a recipient of the Jack Webster Fellowship and she's won several BCAB awards for her in-depth reporting on breaking news.