– Aoife Campbell writes about a new campaign launched today which aims to improve accessibility to the Morning After Pill in Ireland.

The debate surrounding the legalisation of abortion in Ireland has dominated both national and international media discourse, exploding particularly in the last twelve months. Full reproductive emancipation of women and the right to safe, legal and accessible health care in Ireland challenges traditional and detrimentally Catholic social policy, denounces the entitlement or importance of religious views in the health care of others and holds firm that, despite centuries of social and political subordination; women are in fact the experts, rulers and legislators of their own bodies. Bearing this agenda in mind, there is no better hour than now to examine policies governing reproductive rights already legalised in Ireland; the reality of their accessibility and the experiences of women who choose to access them. One such being – emergency hormonal contraception, or ‘the morning after pill’. 

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The morning after pill was legalised in Ireland in 2003. However it wasn’t until 2011 that the drug (levonorgestrel), became available over the counter without a doctors visit or prescription. A battle hard won and a victory for sexual and reproductive freedom indeed. Yet in the years since this ‘virtue’ from the Irish State, many women continue to fight for the right to this legal and safe drug.

Many people are unaware that a pharmacist may legally object to dispensing the morning after pill if it lies in contradiction with his/her ‘personal moral standards’. Such pharmacists may defect to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), who script guidance regarding the provision of medication in pharmacies, in order to ‘contentiously object’ to a woman’s request. Under Principle One of the PSI’s Code of Conduct for pharmacists, as outlined in the PSI’s interim guidance on the supply of NorLevo by pharmacists, pharmacists may refuse to dispense the morning after pill if it lies in contradiction with his or her moral standards;

‘if supply to a patient is likely to be affected by the personal moral standards of a pharmacist’ (PSI, 2011)

Though the pharmacist is required to refer you to another pharmacy, this is often physically and financially impossible for women, not to mention totally derogatory. Despite being ‘safer than aspirin’ the consultation process which goes alongside the drug is often a site of unnecessary, disrespectful and morally loaded questions, while the cost of the drug is un-regulated, ranging from €10 to €45.

Re(al)-Productive Health (realproductivehealth.com) is a website based campaign which aims to be both a helpful resource for women and a strategy for achieving more accessible reproductive health care in Ireland.

The campaign includes six main aims;

  • To remove the conscientious objection clause
  • To make the consultation process optional
  • To ensure advertisement of availability of emergency contraception outside/within pharmacies
  • To ensure a standard price for emergency contraception
  • To ensure that pharmacies in rural areas operate a Sunday rota system
  • To ensure pharmacists are properly trained to dispense emergency contraception in a non-judgmental, understanding manner

The site also contains a MAP (Morning After Pill) template where women can upload their own morning after pill experiences, in terms of location, availability and cost, onto a map of Ireland, helping other women who are seeking the drug and building a better picture of collective experiences. The site also features women’s accounts of attempting to access the morning after pill, helpful tips on how to practically access the drug and what to expect, alongside contributions from writers on the topic of female reproductive health more generally.

Please check out realproductivehealth.com to get involved in the campaign, to learn about your reproductive rights, to use and contribute to our resources and to spread the word among your friends, family and community. Let’s learn from real experiences and demand real action.

 * It cannot be denied that false dichotomisation and over-reliance on the gender binary can be harmful, and have been widely criticised generally. For the purposes of this campaign, however, which by nature must focus solely on the reproductive functions of cis women (a woman whose gender identity correlates with the biological sex she was assigned at birth), a clear distinction between male and female is deemed appropriate and necessary.

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