Morning After Wrangling
Concern Over Contraceptive Side Effects
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By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, MARCH 6, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Country after country has allowed the sale of the so-called morning-after pill in recent years. It’s often proposed as a way to reduce “unwanted” pregnancies and high rates of births to teen mothers.
Japan is one of the latest countries to permit what is also referred to as an emergency contraceptive. The health ministry gave the go-ahead for the sale of NorLevo from May, the Japan Times reported, Feb. 24.
The article said that it is hoped the move will help to reduce the number of abortions. The abortion rate in Japan was 8.8 per 1,000 in 2008, just a bit over half the rate in the United States, according to the article.
One of the main issues related to the sale of morning-after pills is whether they should be available without a doctor’s prescription. In Ireland, the Boots pharmacy chain proposed selling it over the counter, hoping to use a legal loophole it had discovered. In a surprise reaction the Irish Medicines Board suddenly announced it would allow the sale of NorLevo without a doctor’s prescription, the Irish Times reported, Feb. 22.
Not only will it be sold without the need for a prescription but there is also no age limit on those who can purchase it. The absence of any age limit caught the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland off-guard and they issued a statement saying that pharmacists should consider whether they should refer girls aged 16 or under who ask for the pill to a doctor or agency as they are under the age of consent.
Meanwhile, in the United States, there is a push for abolishing the age limit on the sale of the morning-after pill, Plan B. The makers of the pill, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, have applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow those under 17 to be able to buy it, ABC News reported Feb. 25. Currently Plan B is available without a prescription for those 17 years of age and older.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said that it would be irresponsible to make the pill available to young people and warned that it could close off communication between young girls and their parents and doctor. She also said that Plan B needs medical oversight as the same act that led them to fearing they may fall pregnant could also cause them to contract a sexually transmitted disease.
By contrast age is no barrier to obtaining contraceptives in England. More than 1,000 girls aged 11 and 12 have been prescribed the contraceptive pill by family doctors, the Sunday Times reported last August 1. In addition another 200 girls aged between 11 and 13 have long-term injectable or implanted contraceptive devices.
Most of these prescriptions are given to the girls without the knowledge or consent of their parents, according to the article, as doctors are bound by confidentiality to the girls, unless they think they are being abused or pressured into having sex.
Regarding the under-age issue information published not long ago by the British Department of Health bears out the fears expressed by Wendy Wright. Handing out the morning-after pill to under-16s encourages them to take more risks in their sex lives, the Sunday Times reported Jan. 30.
The information came from a study by two professors from Nottingham University, Sourafel Girma and David Paton. In past years the government has distributed the morning after pill for free in some areas, hoping it would reduce teen pregnancies.
The study compared areas where the morning after pill was distributed to minors to those where it was not and controlled for the level of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The professors discovered that handing out the pills did not reduce the rate of pregnancy, but it did increase the level of STDs, by about 12% where it was available for free from pharmacies.
“International research has consistently failed to find any evidence that emergency birth control schemes achieve a reduction in teenage conception and abortion rates,” commented Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust.
Cheryl Wetzstein raised the same issue earlier, in an article published March 25 last year in the Washington Times. She quoted a 2007 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants in which it was claimed that emergency contraceptives could 75-85% of unwanted pregnancies.
Research, however, has shown that these pills have done nothing to reduce pregnancy or abortion rates, she pointed out.
Wetzstein quoted from the March issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, published by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, that admitted new strategies needed to be developed to reduce abortion rates, as morning after pills had failed to achieve anything.
The spreading use of morning-after pills raises serious concerns over the danger of STDs, as well as health issues if women regularly use the high dosage pills. Another disquiet is the issue of conscience.
Ireland’s Irish Catholic newspaper decried the fact that following the decision to allow over the counter sales of the morning-after pill pharmacists will be obliged to sell it. The Feb. 24 report pointed out that emergency contraceptives can also have an abortive effect. and for this reason some pharmacists do not wish to sell it.
The Code of Conduct for pharmacists does not provide for any conscientious objection for Catholics, or for anyone who may have ethical difficulties in selling medications.
In reply to a query by the Irish Catholic the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland confirmed that under the Code of Conduct pharmacists must stock the morning-after pill or ''take reasonable action to ensure these medicines or services are provided''.
Conscience rights are also an issue in the United States, due to the recent decision by the Obama administration to strike out regulations issued by the preceding Bush presidency.
The move was described as “disappointing” by Deirdre McQuade of the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In a Feb. 18 press release.
In an article dated Feb. 23 the National Catholic Register explained that the December 2008 rules strengthened the right of health-care professionals to not participate in a number of medical procedures that violated their religious or moral principles. This includes not only abortion and sterilizations, but also contraceptives.
“Increasingly, health-care professionals are being coerced to violate conscience in a myriad of ways, such as in the dispensing or administering the so-called morning after pill,” Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center told the Register.
The need to defend conscience rights was the topic of a homily given by Vancouver’s Archbishop J. Michael Miller in a January White Mass for health care providers.
According to excerpts published by the B.C. Catholic diocesan newspaper in its Feb. 4 issue, Archbishop Miller insisted that Catholics working in the health industry must be free to live Christ’s message in their professional lives.
He lamented the increasingly aggressive secularism that is trying to prevent religion from having any influence in public institutions.
“Obliging people of faith to keep their opinions to themselves is in itself, if you think about it, an undemocratic way of buying harmony among citizens of a free society,” he said.
“It is a thinly veiled way of curtailing the freedom of expression of religious believers,” he added.
Rejecting what he termed “a conspiracy of silence and complicity,” Archbishop Miller called upon Catholics to assume their responsibility to give witness to Christ even if it means persecution. A persecution that is too often imposed by law.