Should women need to see a doctor or pharmacist before being given the morning after pill?

Medication regulations currently require women and girls to schedule pharmacy appointments to receive the morning-after pill.  A report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends this should be changed so the contraceptives can be ‘sold straight off the shelf’. 

There is a moral dilemma with allowing full access to this pill, as it provides an opportunity for the exploitation and misuse of the contraception. However, women should be granted complete autonomy over their bodies and this should not be restricted by public health schedules and NHS underfunding.

Considering the current strain on the NHS, it is not surprising that a percentage of women slip through the cracks and feel let down by the system. A person should never be made to feel ashamed or ridiculed because of their personal choices, regardless of gender. The morning-after pill needs to be taken within five days of unprotected sex to work effectively, and these tight deadlines mean some women and girls are unable to receive consultations and medication. By making the morning-after pill more accessible, women will have more agency and control over their body, rather than depending on the availability of pharmacies or doctors. 

Dr Asha Kasliwal highlights that ‘a consultation should not be a barrier to receiving emergency contraception’. With more budget cuts in the public health sector, women are finding it increasingly difficult to access and afford this emergency contraception.  The cost for the government to provide financial support for the morning-after pill is far less than the cost of providing services for pregnant women.  Women have more options for protection, but this is more strictly regulated and prevents women from taking full ownership of their bodies and actions.

Although making the morning-after pill more widely available would solve many problems, we must also remain aware of the issues surrounding the use of these pills as a repeated form of contraception. The morning-after pill is not advised as a continual form of contraception, before exploring other avenues. The regulation should remain monitored to ensure the safety of women and girls, whilst providing advice and information within a safe environment.  There is extreme inequality with regards to accessing contraception, as men face less stigma when purchasing products which remain readily available in a variety of businesses. Women have a more difficult process of gaining contraceptives, highlighting that there should be a strive for these healthcare services to offer inclusive spaces, which ensure equality between male and female contraception. 

As unprotected sex is a large factor in the requirement for the morning-after pill, the opportunity for qualified professionals to discuss other avenues with women should not be removed. The space in which these important discussions take place should be adapted to provide a friendly and non-judgemental environment.  These issues with the morning-after pill availability evoke larger discussions on the systems being utilised within the healthcare system, and how they should adapt to match a new generation of women and girls.

If you would like more information on the varieties of contraception available, the NHS has guides and web pages available on their website.

Laura Thompson

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