Pill ‘cop out’, says bishop
CRY FOR HELP: Better education is the answer, not an abortion pill, says Bishop Fisher
By Marilyn Rodrigues
A decision to allow a so-called “morning after” pill to be dispensed by pharmacists without a doctor’s prescription is a “cop out”, says Bishop Anthony Fisher.
The auxiliary bishop believes that proper sex education, not emergency contraception, should be made more widely available.
Bishop Fisher made his comment after the National Drugs and Poisons Schedule Committee announced its decision to make the “morning after” pill, Prostinor-2, available in pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription from January.
“The one thing that strikes me is that we will be pushing women on to high dose drugs when they are not actually fertile most of the time, and so there is often no therapeutic benefit of any kind,” he said.
“I believe it is a ‘cop out’.
“Instead of engaging in genuine sex education that gives people a proper sense of their own self-esteem, their sexuality and how their bodies work, as well as the benefits of waiting, we are taking an easy way out to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancies.
“We need to look at the whole way we educate people in sexuality and relationships so that we don’t have women seeking abortions or emergency contraception.
“For a number of women, their coming to the chemist for the morning after pill will be a cry for help, but no one will be there to talk to about the reason behind why they got into this situation. Are they being preyed upon? Did they really give their consent?”
Dr Catherine Lennon, a Sydney GP, says the committee ignored most of the advice it sought from the public, including from doctors’ and pharmacists’ groups, in making the pill available over the counter.
“I’m very concerned the committee ignored the vast majority of public submissions, 53 compared with 17, against Prostinor-2 being made available over the counter,” she said.
“The committee seems to have accepted the definition by the manufacturer that Prostinor-2 prevents pregnancy, but does it by ignoring the fact that pregnancy begins at the moment of conception, not around six days later at implantation.
“That means it usually acts to produce an abortion by disrupting the lining of the womb.”
Dr Lennon said that the decision was a backwards step for women’s health because of the serious risks associated with Prostinor-2 and because the only condition of purchase will be that women speak to a pharmacist.
“There are a number of warnings that come with Prostinor-2, but it’s going to be difficult for pharmacists to screen women in a busy pharmacy setting,” she said.
Dr Lennon said that Postinor-2 contains the same amount of the hormone levonorgestrel as 50 doses of the oral contraceptive pill Microval.
No safeguards are in place to prevent women “using this huge dose of hormone frequently with potential long-term consequences for their health”, she said.
“The committee ignored the risk of ectopic pregnancy, foetal abnormalities if the woman is already seven weeks pregnant when taking Prostinor-2, and a number of other problems that are known to be caused by high doses of levonorgestrel,” Dr Lennon said.
“The legal burden will be shifted from doctors to pharmacists, and it is unfair for them to be put in a position where they can be sued for, potentially, millions of dollars if they have just one baby born with an abnormality.”
John Wilks, a consultant pharmacist, believes that cautious pharmacists will not stock the “morning after” pill next year.
“There is no imperative on pharmacists to stock it,” he said.
“In a pharmacy situation it’s going to be impossible to question a woman about her sexual history and her health.
“Because there will be no doctor involved, if anything goes wrong the liability is solely on the pharmacist’s shoulders. It’s going to leave the pharmacist the sole defendant in any litigation that results.
“Then there is the ethical issue around the fact that in many cases it will be acting as an abortificant; it will frequently terminate a pregnancy.”
Mary Josephs, of the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations, also condemned the decision.
“It beggars belief that NSW Health would take away the safety requirement for women to consult a doctor before taking Postinor-2,” she said.
“The manufacturer’s own product information cautions that there is ‘limited data available on the effects in young women of childbearing potential aged 14- 16 years’.”
Bishop Fisher said that as the morning after pill becomes more common “it will leave many women with a permanent sense of unease at the back of their mind, because they will never know if they actually were pregnant”.
He added: “We already have a lot of women grieving after having had surgical abortions.
“Now I think we are creating a whole generation of women who will have the same unresolved grief and guilt, except that they might have had chemical abortions.”