End “Unnecessary And Embarrassing” Morning-After Pill Consultation

Illustration by Ly Ngo
If you’re ever a little nostalgic for your school days, nothing will take you back to feeling like a naughty second-former quite like a visit to the pharmacy in search of the morning-after pill. There you will wait nervously outside the headmaster’s office (pharmacist’s cubby hole), before being scalded for cutting P.E. (the split condom/forgotten pill/total abandon). After being dealt some stern words and disappointed looks, you’ll feel 13 all over again. Having experienced both male and female pharmacists both for myself and when accompanying friends, there is a patronising undertone that I don’t think I’ve come across elsewhere in the sexual health profession. I have found the NHS to be kind and understanding. Judgment arrives in a back room at Lloyds. Now the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has said women should be able to pick up the pills without having to endure an "unnecessary and embarrassing" consultation, as reported The Independent. Instead, the morning-after pill should be sold directly from shop shelves, alongside aspirin and Rennies. The charity is also calling for price cuts to end the “sexist surcharge” on emergency contraception, as reported The Telegraph. While British women can find themselves paying up to £30 for pills, they cost about £6 abroad. The hiked-up price is put down to the aforementioned mandatory consultation with the pharmacist. A step that many health officials deem unnecessary. Katherine O’Brien, a BPAS spokesperson, told The Independent: “It’s based on a really weird view of women, a really outdated and patronising view that we can’t be trusted with this medication or we’ll be reckless, it’ll be one-night stands left right and centre,” she said. “I don’t think that is how women view things.” Although BPAS has called on the Department of Health to review access, the government say they have no current plans to change the system. The two most popular brands in the country, Levonelle and ellaOne, are available for free from most GPs and specialist clinics but, because they need to be used within a short time frame, women are often forced to buy them over the counter. But with 29% of 16- to 45-year-old women having had unprotected sex at least once in the last year, according to a 2014 European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care study, shouldn’t we be making access to such contraception easier? Considering the study also found that 11% of British women said they were too “embarrassed” to ask for the morning-after pill (compared to 6% in most other European countries), perhaps it is time we rethink how we allow women to access such contraception.

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