Thursday, March 6, 2008

High time to end the trek for the morning-after pill

This is the text of my article in The Evening Herald on Saturday, 1st March 2008:

Every Sunday, women make long journeys to Dublin to attend clinics run by the Irish Family Planning Association. Their purpose is to get the morning-after pill.

Emergency contraception is available in this country only on prescription, though you can get it over the counter in the UK. So in Ireland, the woman who has unprotected sex or who fears that her long-term contraception may not have protected her, must find a GP, and fast.

But there are many rural areas in which it is very difficult to find a GP on a Sunday morning – and many a woman would be embarrassed to go to her family doctor looking for the morning-after pill.

For the morning-after pill to be at its most effective it should be taken with 24 hours of unprotected sex. If that is done, there is a 95 per cent likelihood that it will prevent a pregnancy which would otherwise have occurred.

Within 24 and 48 hours, the pill is 85 per cent effective. And it is 60 per cent effective if taken within 48 and 72 hours.

So time is crucial when it comes to the use of the morning-after pill.

In the UK and elsewhere the woman can go down to her local chemist and buy the morning-after pill without prescription. In Ireland, we make them go through the embarrassment and expense of visiting a GP.

If you can’t find a GP on first thing on a Sunday, then too bad. You should have thought of that before you got yourself into this fix. You have had your fun and now you must pay for it.

This is not a view any reasonable parent would want to inflict on, say, their teenage daughter.

When the Irish Pharmaceutical Union commissioned a survey of 1,000 people on this issue, 75 per cent favoured making the morning-after pill available without prescription. Nowadays we accept that people have sex and that we should not punish them for by forcing them to make penitential journeys to family planning clinics.

The Irish Medicines Board is the key body when it comes to deciding whether the morning-after pill should be sold over the counter or not.

It takes the view that requiring a prescription for emergency contraception is “appropriate” because it means the GP can “monitor” the reactions of patients using it. What a load of old tosh. Either emergency contraception is so potentially dangerous that it should only be given out on a doctor’s prescription, or it is not.

The fact is that the UK, with a regulatory system just as good as ours has found nothing to suggest that the morning-after pill should be a prescription-only drug.

It seems to me that somebody in power should lean on the Irish Medicines Board to help them to take a difference view. Why should women have to go on paying the price of this policy?

Is the morning-after pill an abortifacient, as some have suggested? It isn’t, and if it was, it wouldn’t be available here even on prescription. So far as in known, the pill works by preventing ovulation or delaying it or by preventing a fertilised egg from settling in the womb. It doesn’t appear to cause an embryo already implanted in the womb to abort.

We live in an era in which you can buy condoms in your local Spar. Why should this other form of contraception involve, for some women, a penitential journey of 100 miles or more to a family planning clinic at the weekends?

We really do need to end this nonsense and we need those in authority to take note of the fact that most people want to end it.

1 comment:

Sir Frank said...
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