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Restrictions on Morning-After Pill Are Falling

5/30/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Church Warns of Stealth Abortions and Health Risks to Women

OTTAWA, MAY 30, 2004 (Zenit) - Many countries have eased restrictions on the distribution of "morning-after" pills. The initiatives have drawn strong criticism from local bishops, who have pointed out the abortive nature of the pills, contradicting official claims that the pills are only contraceptive and not abortifacient.

Last week, Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew of Canada announced a proposal to amend the Food and Drug Regulations to allow to allow what he termed "emergency contraceptives" to be available without a doctor's prescription. The pill will be available after a consultation with a pharmacist. The provinces of British Columbia, Quebec and Saskatchewan already allow the pills to be sold following this type of consultation, said the Globe and Mail newspaper May 18.

Advocates of the measure defended the change to federal rules saying that speedy access is needed since the pill must be taken within 72 hours after sexual intercourse in order to be effective.

Pettigrew's move drew an immediate reaction from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a May 19 statement, the conference referred to a letter dated last Nov. 27 and sent to the health minister by Bishop Pierre Morrisette of Baie-Comeau, chairman of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family.

The November letter pointed out that pregnancy begins with conception, not implantation. "It is thus inaccurate to refer to this pill as emergency contraception, given its potential to act as an abortifacient," the letter observed.

Bishop Morrisette also argued that women who think they are in need of "emergency contraception" are also in need of "counseling, support, information about how the pill works, its physical and psychological side effects, the dangers of regular use, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and guidance about relationships." He doubted that such needs could "be truly met in the context of a very busy, very public and perhaps impersonal pharmacy."

Dr. Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, in a May 20 declaration highlighted the health risks associated with the pill. It is basically a multiple dose of an oral contraceptive, levonorgestrel, which is found in the birth-control pill, he explained. Due to serious side effects, manufacturers have reduced the hormone content of oral contraceptives.

"Now women are being encouraged to use these same pills, in multiple doses, as post-coital 'contraception,'" Johnston said. "The potential long-term impact of these high hormone doses, especially when used repeatedly, is worrisome and not being adequately addressed."

Full-court press in Latin America

This year a series of Latin American countries introduced the morning-after pill. In January, Mexican federal health authorities allowed distribution of the pill in public clinics, provoking strong protests by the Church. A Jan. 23 statement by the Church commission on family pastoral matters drew attention to the pill's abortive effects. The declaration also expressed concern for women's health, due to the lack of information made available on the pill's secondary effects. Moreover, the spread of the morning-after pill shows how the boundary between abortion and contraception is blurring, noted the commission, leading to the spread of an anti-life mentality.

The following month, the Honduras episcopal conference denounced the distribution of the morning-after pill in the country. In a Feb. 6 declaration the bishops deplored the campaign started by the government a few days earlier, noting that authorities were working in conjunction with a major chain of British abortion clinics, Marie Stopes.

Life is the greatest gift given by God to humans, noted the bishops, and only the Creator can give it or take it away. Men and women participate with God in the transmission of human life, but this is a task marked by responsibility and dignity, they explained.

Advocates of family planning argue that pregnancy only begins after the embryo has implanted itself in the womb. But the declaration affirmed that genetics clearly shows that a new life begins from the moment of fertilization. To speak of the newly conceived human embryo as a "pre-embryo" is simply a sophism. And, they warned, those who collaborate in promoting abortive methods cannot be living members of the Church.

Then, in April, the Colombian government authorized local authorities to distribute, under medical prescription, the morning-after pill. The government defended its action by saying it is necessary to reduce the number of pregnancies among adolescents, the local newspaper El Tiempo reported April 13.

The Colombian bishops' conference replied, saying that while teen-age pregnancies ...

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