Fertility

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Calls for pill to be over the counter

There are  growing calls for women to be able to buy the contraceptive pill over the counter.

Thousands of women face the costly chore of visiting their GP for a pill generally considered safe by health professionals.

Pharmacists already provide the morning-after pill without prescription, leading some women to ask why this could not be extended to the oral contraceptive pill.

Even conservative lobby group Family First does not object to the idea, though it said a line should be drawn, barring teenagers from being granted easier access to birth control.

Currently women must return to a GP every six months for a prescription for the birth control pill.

Family Planning supported doing away with doctor prescriptions if trained and tested professionals, such as a pharmacist or nurse, dispensed the pill.

National medical adviser Dr Christine Roke said it would make little difference if a trained pharmacist, rather than a GP, consulted with the woman for a repeat prescription.

"As long as there is some degree of consultation at the time, and the person has been checked for the safety of the pill and checked they know how to use it."

The pill is safe for the majority of women who take it, but there was a slightly higher risk of blood clots for some people on the pill, she said.

However, the risk was low.

"When they have done big studies in the UK, they found you have less chance of dying on the pill as off the pill."

A movement for over-the-counter birth control is gathering momentum in the United States following the endorsement by a group representing gynaecologists.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) caused a stir in December after supporting the pill being dispensed at pharmacies to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies.

The ACOG said in its statement that the pill came with risks of side-effects, just as aspirin did. However, it was considered safe and important to many women.

Dr Morgan Healey, who heads the Abortion Law Reform Association NZ, said she backed the idea.

"Personally, I wholeheartedly agree with the principle of having the pill available over-the-counter.

"Most women don't necessarily need to go to their doctor on a six-monthly or yearly basis.

"It's expensive and it creates barriers to access."

Most pharmacists would be able to advise women on side-effects.

"If they have any issues they can still go to their doctor."

Yet the debate around easier access to contraception is not without controversy, especially if younger people are affected.

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Taranaki DHB is due to make a decision this month on whether the morning-after pill should be available at pharmacies to girls as young as 12.

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie slammed the idea as "morally bankrupt" and medically flawed.

He also came out swinging against the idea of offering teenagers the oral contraceptive over the counter, but did not object to easier access for adults.

"The issue is not contraception per se. The issue is making it free to teenagers without parental permission."

Dozens of countries, including Canada and a number of European nations, already allow women to pick up the pill without prescriptions, according to medical journal Contraception.

The journal published a study in December that found a third of 147 countries surveyed required a prescription for the pill.

- Sunday Star Times

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