Canada’s federal government announced on Tuesday that it will now allow emergency contraception (EC) to be available over-the-counter (OTC) to women for the prevention of unwanted pregnancy. EC, sold under the name Plan B and distributed by Paladin Labs Inc. in Canada, will be kept behind the counter and dispensed without a prescription from a pharmacist.
“Given the significant psychological, social and economic impact of improving access to emergency contraction for women across Canada, this is a significant step forward in women’s rights and health,” Dr. Andre Lalonde, executive vice president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada said, reports the Canadian Press. According to the society, one in two pregnancies in Canada is unintended.
EC has previously been available over-the-counter in three Canadian provinces–British Columbia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. The Canadian Press reports that the number of women who used EC in British Columbia per year more than doubled after it was made available without a prescription in 2000, preventing hundreds of abortions.
In the United States, US Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have vowed to block the confirmation of Lester Crawford, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner nominee, until a decision is made on granting over-the-counter status to emergency contraception (EC). Crawford, who is currently serving as acting commissioner of the FDA, would not commit to when the FDA will resolve the issue of over-the-counter (OTC) status for Plan B.
The Feminist Majority Foundation leads a national drive on college campuses to increase the availability of EC for young women. The accessibility of EC has become all the more dire due to nationwide controversy as pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions on so-called religious grounds. EC is exceedingly safe and effective if taken within 5 days but it is most effective (95 percent) if taken within 24 hours after any unprotected sexual intercourse, when a condom breaks, or after a sexual assault. EC has the potential to cut in half the 3 million unintended pregnancies in the United States each year and prevent thousands of abortions a year.