Availability of the morning after pill in Spain

Morning after pill will be available at chemists in Spain without prescription

Trips to health centres in search of the morning after pill will soon become a thing of the past in Spain when this form of contraception becomes available at chemist’s throughout Spain without the need for a prescription. The Minister for Health, Trinidad Jiménez, announced yesterday that the morning after pill will be available to anyone who asks for it over the counter at Spanish farmacies and will cost 18 euros.

Every year in Spain around 500,000 women use the morning after pill in order to avoid early or unwanted pregnancies which are on the increase in Spain. In 2007 more than 112,000 abortions were carried out in Spain 6000 of which were for women under the age of 18 and 500 for girls under the age of 15. According to the Ministry for Health these figures show that unwanted pregnancies are a serious problem in Spain and one which requires measures such as the introduction of the morning after pill without prescription.

The issue of abortion and unwanted pregnancies has always divided Spain and while certain sectors of the medical profession have been asking for the morning after pill to be made more freely available, the announcement made by the Health Minister yesterday was not welcomed by representatives of a sector of the medical profession whoe claim that the pill is a method of abortion and believe that its availability over the counter will only serve to make people more promiscuous. The Popular Party’s shadow Minister for Health, Ana Pastor, agrees with this sector and claimed yesterday that its introduction without prescription represented a step backwards and was nothing more than a political move.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the morning after pill to be an essential medicine, one which any women of reproductive age might need at some time in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

In 3 months time when this form of contraception becomes available without prescription Spain will join the list of 46 countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the US, India or Portugal where the morning after pill is available over the counter.

The new measure which forms part of the government’s strategy on reproductive and sexual health also aims to put an end to inequalities that exist between different regions of Spain with regards to the availability of the morning after pill. In some regions such as Madrid or Galicia, it is very difficult to get access to it through the public health system whereas in other regions such as Andalucía, Aragón, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Navarra, Cataluña, Extremadura, Galicia or the Balearic Islands it is handed out free of charge in family planning centres.

In 2008 540,000 units were handed out by doctors compared to the 100,000 units in 2001 when it was legalised in Spain.

However, some sectors of the medical profession are against this form of contraception. Luis Chiva, the spokesperson for Gynaecologists in Defence of Life’ defines its introduction over the counter as ‘madness’ and a ‘barbarity’ and says that it will increase sexual promiscuity. He also says that people will start to use it as a normal form of contraception rather than only for emergencies. However, Javier Martínez Salmeán, the head of Gynaecology in the Severo Ochoa hospital of Madrid and a member of the government’s advisory committee of experts believes that making the morning pill available without prescription is a great advance. He also said that the possibilities of suffering side effects from this medicine are very low. He also said that the availability of this form of contraception would not lead to a sudden rise in its use but would make it less stressful for women to get access to it.

While the WHO states this form of contraception inhibits ovulation and is not abortive, some doctors refuse to prescribe the morning after pill because they say that it can inhibit the implantation of a fertilised ovule in the uterus at certain times of a menstrual cycle and is therefore abortive. This is also the traditional view of the Catholic Church.

Even now there are some chemists in Spain that refuse to sell condoms and the morning after pill. According to Trinidad Jiménez chemists are ‘obliged to supply the morning after pill’. The president of the Association of Chemists, Carmen Peña, also explained that all medicines should be available in chemists unless there was a problem of supply. She said that chemists ‘did not enter into politics’.