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Increasing Abortion Access in Canada? Approving RU-486, Part 2

Health Canada is currently considering an application for RU-486, a prescription medication that would provide Canadian women with greater access to a non-surgical method of abortion.  What is this drug and how might it impact Canadian women? This post is the second in a series of three which will examine the drug, its effects, and the medical and political implications should Health Canada approve its use.

How Does the Health Canada Approval Process Work?

The Health Canada approval process begins after a drug has been tested in preclinical and clinical trials. Through a variety of laboratory and animal testing, pre-clinical trials are designed to determine if the drug will produce the intended result. The preclinical data must support the notion that the drug is non-toxic and safe. Then, an application is submitted to the Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) of Health Canada. Once this application is approved, the drug is then clinically tested on humans.  

After preclinical testing, clinical testing and with supporting data collection, the sponsor may file a “New Drug Submission” with the TPD. Information and data on the drug are attached to the submission. The information and data outline the safety, effectiveness and quality of the drug as well as the production details, packaging and labeling details, information regarding therapeutic claims, its side effects and results of both the preclinical and clinical testing. The TPD’s review is an assessment to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks. If the conclusion is “yes” then the drug is issued a Notice of Compliance and a Drug Identification Number which allows the sponsor to market the drug in Canada.

Where is RU-486 at in the Approval Process?

RU-486 has been in the approval process since 2001. Clinical studies were conducted, halted and then re-started. In December 2012, Health Canada received an application to consider RU-486 for marketing.

 It is unclear where the application now sits in the process. Up until January of this year Health Canada refused to acknowledge the existence of an application to approve RU-486.

On the government level, it still remains that no Canadian law has been passed to regulate abortions since the law was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1988 R. v. Morgentaler decision. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that the existing law put women at risk because of the law’s uneven application based on geographic location; and, that Parliament had the jurisdiction to enact legislation to limit or prohibit abortion. Prime Minister Harper has stated that abortion is not on the agenda for discussion.

The Health Canada process stands officially independent from the government that funds it.

Is RU-486 a Pro-Woman Drug?

RU-486 is not a pro-woman drug.

Considering this drug from several perspectives yields the same result.  While RU-486 would provide greater access to abortion for women in Canada, that access would come with a cost.

The cost of RU-486 is measured by Health Canada in terms of gains vs. losses. If the gains or “benefits” of RU-486 outweigh the losses or “risks” then it is deemed as a “success” in the drug approval process. Consequently the same method is being used to measure the value of the life of a woman or a child in the womb.  Measuring the well-being of a woman or child on such a scale does not advocate on their behalf or bring justice.

Information on RU-486 and its long term effects is scarce and much may be unreported. However, RU-486 and induced abortion can have long term effects such as: maternal or fetal death; uterine hyperstimulation; risk of hysterectomy; uterine rupture or perforation; later risk of premature births; risk of preterm delivery; chronic pelvic pain as a result of a pelvic infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and possible deformation of the child in the womb are all possible side effects.

RU-486 doesn’t just impact women medically. It takes a toll psychologically and emotionally. Any woman choosing to take RU-486 experiences a painful process that takes at least two weeks. This painful process is accompanied by the “passing” of the aborted baby. When the first pill is taken the baby is starved of the nutrients needed to sustain life, which means a deceased child may be carried in the womb for up to a week before being able to take the second pill to expel the baby. Because RU-486 can be taken up to about two months into the pregnancy, the baby may already have formed a discernable head and limbs. Women have found this both psychologically and emotionally taxing.

There is much more to consider than temporary side effects, choice or giving a woman a sense of control over her abortion.

A woman must live with this choice forever. What happens when the relief of her choice wears off, or “control” over the abortion leaves her feeling the opposite? For some women, once the finality of the personal choice sets in, there is an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the death of a child. In one report, a U.S. woman was hospitalized after trying to commit suicide subsequent to just such a chemical abortion.  A New Zealand study noted that young women who undergo abortions are more likely to display suicidal behaviour, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental disorders.  Other studies conducted by Dr. David Reardon describe a correlation between abortion and mental health issues such as sleep disorders and child abuse. The psychological and emotional scars from RU-486 are real and permanent. It is much more than just taking a few pills and waiting.


Increasing Abortion Access in Canada? Approving RU-486, Part 1

Health Canada is currently considering an application for RU-486, a prescription medication that would provide Canadian women with greater access to a non-surgical method of abortion.  What is this drug and how might it impact Canadian women? This post is the first in a series of three which will examine the drug, its effects, and the medical and political implications should Health Canada approve its use.

What is RU-486?
RU-486 is an abortion pill. RU-486 has been legalized, not without controversy, in 57 countries worldwide. In January 2014, Health Canada Deputy Minister George Da Pont confirmed that a pharmaceutical company has sought the drug’s approval for use in Canada. Practically speaking, this means that Canadian women would have yet another form of access to abortion. RU-486 would be an alternative to the standard surgical processes.  Canada has yet to legalize this method of abortion.

This abortion method is referred to as a chemical or medical abortion. The abortion is caused by a combination of two separate medications: Mifeprex and Misoprostol.

Has it Been Used in Canada?
Yes, in 2001 there was a drug trial of RU-486 in Canada. The drug trial was halted that same year after use of RU-486 resulted in the death of a woman. She suffered Toxic Shock Syndrome brought on by a bacterial infection related to her chemical (RU-486) abortion.

How Does RU-486 Work?
RU-486 works chemically to counteract the hormone crucial for sustaining pregnancy, progesterone. Mifeprex (mifepristone) binds to the progesterone receptor site in place of the progesterone hormone. It does this with twice the strength of progesterone, which enables the Mifeprex to ‘beat’ the progesterone hormone to its receptor site. The resulting failure of the progesterone to bind to the receptor sites causes placental failure. The failure of the placenta causes the developing embryonic child to lose the necessary nutrition and oxygen needed for development and survival, resulting in death.

Use of RU-486 is a multi-day process. On the first day, a woman takes three 200mg tablets of Mifeprex. On the third day, she takes two 200mg tablets of Misoprostol. Misoprostol is taken in conjunction with Mifeprex because it induces contractions. As a result, the woman experiences a forced miscarriage, a chemically induced abortion.

On the 14th day, it is recommended that the woman return to her doctor for a post-treatment appointment—to confirm that a “complete termination” has occurred. If the chemical abortion has failed, the patient would undergo a surgical termination to complete the abortion process.

What Are the Side Effects?
There are many side effects associated with RU-486. The most common of the 2,207 adverse side effects are

  • bleeding
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain
  • uterine hemorrhaging, and
  • vomiting

As the drug’s 2001 Canadian trial was short-lived, it is worthwhile to examine the experience of the American women who have used the drug.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, between September 2000 and the end of April 2011, 612 American women needed to be hospitalized due to their use of RU-486. 339 women received a blood transfusion due to blood loss and 256 woman developed infections. Out of those 256 women, 48 of them developed “severe infections” (which often included death or hospitalization) due to RU-486.  150,000 American women experienced serious bleeding after taking RU-486. Tragically, 14 women have died in the U.S. as a result of using RU-486.


Canadian Law Societies: Bastions of Intolerance?

Guest Post by Albertos Polizogopoulos                                                                    

Trinity Western University’s bid for a Christian law school is again in the news. TWU’s proposal to create a law school was approved by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in December. The British Columbia government then granted TWU permission to offer law degrees. Unhappy with these decisions, some members of the legal community, and a number of provincial law societies, are seeking to circumvent the Federation’s ruling by launching a campaign against TWU and its future law students. They are advocating that individual provincial legal bodies prohibit TWU graduates from practicing law in their jurisdictions.

The Law Society of British Columbia, which had delegated its authority to approve new law schools to the Federation has recently changed its rules to allow it to veto against certain law schools. The Law Society of British Columbia and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society have announced that they will hold hearings to consider whether they should admit graduates from TWU to their provincial bars.

The opposition stems from TWU’s Community Covenant which pledges students to abstaining from certain activities and behaviours during their studies including the viewing of pornography, the possession or use of alcohol on campus, and “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” TWU’s opponents argue that the Community Covenant is discriminatory towards the LGBT community and that there is no place in Canada for a law school that holds traditional Christian beliefs.

TWU’s application to create a law school has indeed fostered an environment of discrimination and intolerance, but it is TWU that is the victim. 

TWU’s position on sexual relationships is grounded in the Bible and is part of the institution’s, and its members’, sincerely held religious beliefs. As such, those who oppose the admission of TWU graduates to the practice of law are apparently actively advocating for religious discrimination in Canada.

TWU has not, does not and will not prevent students from the LGBT community from studying at TWU. In fact, TWU has made clear that it welcomes all students and its history and admittance practices support that position. The Community Covenant is with regard to behaviour and activity, not being or identity. This same Covenant requires its students and faculty to “treat all persons with respect and dignity, and uphold their God-given worth.”

If the Law Society of British Columbia or other law societies decide that they will not recognize the law degrees of TWU students because of the institution’s and the students’ religious beliefs, will those societies then also  refuse admission to the bar to everyone who holds a traditional view of marriage and sexuality? Will they prevent their citizens from traditional Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Bahá'í, Mormon, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and Jain backgrounds from practicing law?

And what about British Columbians who want to receive their legal services from a lawyer who shares and understands their belief system? Religious beliefs can sometimes play a significant role in certain family law disputes or estates matters. But this fact is irrelevant as certain law society heads apparently know better. Perhaps these citizens can try to seek out legal services from lawyers from provinces that truly value a multicultural and diverse bar.

If we, as a society, are not offended by the exclusion of religious minorities from the public square on the basis of their religious belief for one reason, then we will not be offended by their exclusion on the basis of any reason. As a society, Canadians pride themselves on being multicultural, polyethnic, religiously diverse and tolerant of all. But talk is cheap and in reality, many who claim to be tolerant are really only tolerant of ethnic, cultural and religious views, attitudes and practices with which they agree.

What’s perhaps more surprising, at least from a legal perspective, is that the issue of TWU’s Community Covenant has already been ruled on by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2001, the Court ruled in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers that the British Columbia College of Teachers had no legal justification for refusing to accredit TWU’s graduates on the basis of TWU’s Community Covenant. The Court found no evidence that TWU’s students, who had signed and abided by the Community Covenant, demonstrated any discriminatory behaviour in the exercising of their duties as teaching professionals.

One would think that Canada’s provincial law societies such as the Law Society of British Columbia, which are made up of lawyers who are ostensibly aware of significant Supreme Court of Canada decisions, and from apparently superior, non-religious law schools, would know that case. Or at least acknowledge its implications.

Whatever the Law Society of British Columbia, or other provincial law societies think TWU’s Community Covenant or TWU as a university, if they exclude TWU graduates from practicing law in their jurisdiction, they become the intolerants guilty of discrimination. Their discrimination is based on the religious beliefs of TWU, its students and its faculty.

Is the fact that future TWU law graduates subscribed to TWU’s Community Covenant grounds to exclude them from the practice of law? What of graduates from other law schools who share TWU’s position on sexual relationships? Should they also be excluded from the practice of law on the sole basis of their religious beliefs?

The real question here is “should Canadian Christians be excluded from the practice of law?” Do we, as a society, endorse a faith-based test to practicing law? That is the inevitable conclusion and consequence if we endorse the barring of TWU law graduates from practicing law on the sole basis of their view of sexual relationships.

Albertos Polizogopoulos is a Partner with the firm Vincent Dagenais Gibson LLP/s.r.l. in Ottawa, Ontario. He regularly appears before courts and appellate courts including the Supreme Court of Canada to advocate for his clients’ rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression and parental authority. He also frequently appears in media interviews and on panels to discuss constitutional law. @CharterLaw

Mr. Polizogopoulos is currently acting as legal counsel to the EFC in the Loyola High School v. A.G. Quebec case, and has previously acted for the EFC in Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony case, the S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chenes case and the Cuthbertson v. Rasouli case.


Pro-Life Work is Making Me Sick

By Faye Sonier

I’ve been a pro-life activist for six years. One of my primary files as a lawyer for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the “Life” file. Daily, I study issues like euthanasia, assisted suicide, reproductive technologies and abortion.

I’m currently working on an abortion-related project that the EFC is preparing to release. This means that for the last four days I’ve worked on nothing else. I’ve been reading and writing about abortion non-stop. I’ll continue to do so for the next few weeks until we release the report.

Only four days into this project, I’m already struggling with waves of nausea and deep sadness. This is partly because the abortion topic is a hard one to focus on exclusively. We’re talking about the dismemberment and killing of unborn children. We’re talking about the damage abortion inflicts on mothers, fathers, families, and communities. The damage for individuals may be psychological, emotional and physical but many fail to consider it is also reflected in demographic, cultural and economic realities of our society. Anytime spent studying this issue is like taking a class entitled “Culture of Death 101.” It’s not a happy topic.

The other reality is that I’m six months pregnant. My son, Jack, seems intent to dance his way to the ninth month, whether that’s in his waking prenatal hours or in his sleep. The boy is kicking and stretching incessantly.

So while my laptop is propped up on a pillow just past my ever-growing belly, as I read about abortion procedures, Jack might kick enough to knock aside a page that is resting on my stomach. While I read pro-choice arguments that ring increasingly hollow, about choice or bodily rights, Jack is making my sweater ripple and bunch with his activity.

And this makes me feel sick, this reading about the killing and the rhetoric in defence of killing children just like my Jack.

Other pro-lifers have confessed to me that sometimes, to cope, they have to mentally and emotionally move to a 30,000 foot view of the abortion issue. They need to think about the “issue” without thinking about one or every single life destroyed. I fully understand how it would be crippling to function, much less engage, otherwise. I’ve been there too. Some days, as horrible as it sounds, I can’t bear to think about each life lost. On those days, I can handle a statistic, but I can’t handle the Susies, or Ellas, or Matteos, or Jacks who didn’t make it through the day because an abortionist and mother decided that today would be that child’s last.

Right now, I cannot separate myself from the individual lives that are being lost on an hourly basis. I can’t because I have one life that is making itself known all too loud and clear. His movements echo those of the little ones who will move no more before the end of the abortion clinic’s business day.

Today, like yesterday and the day before, about 275 children will die in Canada from abortion.

So I cry. I put down my journal articles and email a few of my colleagues and let them know I’m struggling. They call and we share. I try to get perspective. I cling to hope that lives are being saved because of the work the pro-life community is doing. That this work we do makes a difference. That hearts are being changed. That maybe today a life will be spared.

But it also spurs me on to pray for the children and women who are victims of abortion and for my colleagues who spend their lives sharing a message of life. It makes me recommit to this cause on a nearly minute-by-minute basis.

My struggle is minute compared with that of the children who are fighting for their lives, angling their little bodies away from the abortionist’s instruments. It is small compared to that of the women and communities who are left to pick up the pieces once the procedure is over. Abortion leaves loss, destruction and suffering in its wake. And today, it leaves me feeling sick and my heart that much more broken over the little lives lost than it ever has before.

And, for this activist, that’s probably a good thing.


“Attention all bad bitches, working girls, escorts, strippers” – a prostitution reality

By Julia Beazley

We’re now less than 24 hours before the Supreme Court of Canada is set to release its ruling in the Bedford prostitution case Friday morning. Those who have been involved in the case know well what is at stake. But I remain concerned that much of society has yet to look honestly and critically at the real issues of prostitution in Canada. 

The Bedford case is a challenge to three of the key laws that inhibit prostitution in Canada, which would otherwise be completely legal. One of the laws whose fate we await is the Criminal Code provision that makes it a criminal offence to live on the avails of prostitution, or the pimping law. 

This provision was struck down at the Ontario Superior Court, then rewritten at the Ontario Court of Appeal so that it would “only apply in circumstances of exploitation.” It has been argued before the Supreme Court and in the media by pro-prostitution groups that this provision prevents women in prostitution from hiring bodyguards, drivers, or even bookkeepers, thereby making their ‘work’ less safe. It’s a charming chapter in a fairy tale version of prostitution, in which the men involved in the prostitution industry are benevolent fellows whose interests lie in assisting and protecting prostituted women. But the thing about fairy tales is when you look a little deeper you often find something darker and more ominous. 

Through the network of individuals and organizations I work alongside to bring change to Canada’s prostitution laws, I was alerted to a mass text communication that had been issued by several well known pimps in southwestern Ontario. 

The text begins, “Attention All Bad Bitches/Working Girls/Escorts/Strippers… Exile Season Starts December 15!”

The exile season warning is directed at all women known to be prostituting in the Greater Toronto Area, and possibly even more widespread, whether on the streets, in massage parlours, escort services or in strip clubs. Intended to intimidate and threaten, it is a less than subtle directive that failure to ‘choose’ a pimp to work with on a ‘100% basis’  would result in those women no longer being permitted to work, period. The text makes it clear that enforcers – whose nicknames aren’t fit for print – are ready and willing to deal with non-compliers. The message is unambiguous: working independently, anywhere, will not be tolerated; and those who don’t play by the rules will face consequences.

I was sickened by what I read. I’m told this type of communication is just part of ‘the game,’ and must be taken seriously. These men are not drivers or bodyguards. They are dangerous individuals, exercising a perverse sense of power and entitlement, and bent on maintaining control. 

A decade of experience with legalization in countries like the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand tells us that legalization does not wrestle this power from the hands of these men.  Rather, it creates a more competitive environment for them, encouraging them to up the ante. Women, as this communication detailed, are forced to either leave the game or respect its’ origin, as the text says, “built and designed for gentlemen to eat.” Gentlemen, indeed. 

This is just part of what’s at stake in Friday’s decision. And it’s why, regardless of how the Supreme Court of Canada rules, it is essential that Parliament reform our prostitution laws

Last week the EFC submitted Out of Business: Prostitution in Canada – Putting an end to Demand to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Justice and Public Safety before sending it to all Parliamentarians. It is a comprehensive report outlining the model of law and public policy on prostitution that we, along with other faith, feminist, women’s and first nations organizations and a growing number of police associations, believe to be the most effective, most just approach to addressing prostitution. Ultimately, our goal is the elimination of all forms of sexual exploitation in Canada. This Canadian proposal, based on the approach pioneered in Sweden, recognizes prostitution as violence toward women, exploitation, and contrary to equality between the sexes. It proposes criminalizing the purchase and attempt to purchase sex for the first time in our country, while decriminalizing the people who are being sold for someone else’s pleasure.  And it suggests a Canadian way of providing supports and services to facilitate exit from prostitution.

In studies of women in prostitution, 90% have expressed they would get out of prostitution if they could. If prostituted women weren’t worried about facing charges, vile communications like the one I describe could be reported to the police, and the police would take action.

In Ottawa, the Supreme Court and Parliament stand in each other’s shadows. Let’s hope both will take the steps necessary to put an end to this modern day sex slavery.



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