The morning after pill controversy

HE did not use protection ... I forgot to take my contraceptive pill ... the condom broke – these thoughts haunt the darkest of nightmares for women who unwillingly, unknowingly or accidentally engage in unprotected sex.

Emergency contraception – or the morning after pill – has been legally sold without a prescription over chemist counters in Australia since 2003.

But, a controversial trend across the country where pharmacists will not give out this pill because of personal religious beliefs still effects women in rural and regional areas.

Port Macquarie’s Plunketts Pharmacy pharmacist Leslie Taylor said there have been pharmacists in our region who would not supply women with the morning after pill because it went against their beliefs.

While she did not know how many pharmacists fitted this criteria, Mrs Taylor was aware of the issue.

“They’re entitled to their beliefs but it’s certainly not a view I have,” she said. "With a teenage daughter, I can appreciate how frightening the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy would be for the girl and her family.”

Mrs Taylor said pharmacists who have this view should put up a sign stating so and direct customers to another pharmacy.

Terry White Chemist Port Macquarie pharmacist Wendy Eccleston was also aware of pharmacists who have worked in Port Macquarie holding this view.

Ms Eccleston agreed the consequences of an unexpected pregnancy were overwhelming, particularly for younger women and teenagers.

“Our official policy is not to supply the morning after pill to girls under 16 without a medical certificate or parental consent,” Ms Eccleston said. “We have to be mindful because abuse could be occurring in these cases.”

Hearle’s Pharmacy pharmacist David Miles said the issue was rare and would be more of a problem in one-pharmacy towns.

Mr Miles said while he believed it was important to respect a “moral objector’s” position, the welfare of the person was paramount and a pharmacist who did not sell this pill should provide a referral.

“Sale of emergency contraception should respect the patient’s or client’s privacy, and counselling is essential to to ensure safe and appropriate use of the product,” he said.

“Consideration needs to be given, for example, to the possibility of sexual assault, the fact that sexually transmitted illnesses or diseases may be an issue, and that the emergency contraceptive is not suitable for ongoing regular contraception.“

St Agnes Parish priest Father Leo Donnelly believed a pharmacist should be able to refuse to serve the morning after pill if it went against their religion.

“I think a pharmacist has the right not to burden their conscience if they feel supplying a pharmaceutical drug to someone could cause them harm,” Father Donnelly said.

Social networking site ConnectPink recently published an article investigating the issue.

It revealed the Australian Women’s Health network had labelled sexual and reproductive health a national priority following growing reports of pharmacists refusing to give women emergency contraceptives due to their own religious or moral beliefs.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia says by law, it is only compulsory for pharmacists to provide medications that are listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Contraceptives are not. The society’s code of ethics respects the right of pharmacists to operate according to their beliefs but warns that legal action can be taken if “a failure to supply is construed as discriminatory or as leading to foreseeable harm to the individual”.

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