Boots’ decision to sell the morning-after pill over the counter marks a milestone in reproductive rights and heralds an era in which true sexual change can occur, writes Bridget Fitzsimons
While we like to think of ourselves as a modern and cosmopolitan society, Ireland cannot claim to be at the progressive end of the spectrum when it comes to reproductive rights. Abortion remains illegal and bodies like the Iona Institute seem hell-bent on convincing us that sex outside of marriage is abominable. However, steps are slowly being taken to drag Ireland’s sexual health and education policies kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Pharmaceutical chain Boots announced last week that they would begin selling emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, over the counter, without prescription. This is the first time that this initiative has been introduced in Ireland and heralds a new era in reproductive rights. However, the Irish College of General Practitioners expressed concern over the move, saying that women may leave themselves open to compromised quality of care while availing of the drug.
This is a historic move and must be celebrated. Ireland has, for far too long, chosen to remain ignorant and unaware of the consequences of proper education and access to sexual health and reproductive information. In allowing the morning-after pill to be available over the counter, Boots have removed the embarrassment and sense of shame that women often felt going to see their GP.
Often, GPs are less than accommodating to women in need of emergency contraception. This move also means that access to the morning-after pill will be far easier during the weekend, especially on Sundays when it is often most needed.
Organisations such as the Irish Family Planning Association and Choice Ireland have come out in favour of the move. Along with this initiative, we need to see a push in sexual health education. Bodies such as Choice Ireland and the IFPA now must ensure that people are aware of issues pertaining to sexual health and the morning-after pill.
Women should be made aware of the drug, its side-effects and what it actually does to their bodies. Awareness and education is the only way that we can expect people to behave responsibly. In addition, it is now time for the government to instill proper sex education in both primary and secondary education, so that unwanted pregnancies can be less of an issue.
The reality is that sexual health education is completely lacking in this country. I received literally no formal sex education in school, apart from studying the human reproductive system in biology at the age of 17. This is ludicrous. We should be open about sex and its consequences, so that the next generation can be ably equipped and not saddled with the Catholic guilt that seems to currently permeate society.
While GPs may be concerned about lack of care, it is now time for us to place trust in our pharmacists. In deciding whether or not to give women emergency contraception due to misguided ‘morals’, GPs have lost this business themselves.
Pharmacists learn about medication in their training, they just need to make their customers aware that they can ask them questions about the morning-after pill, just as they can doctors. Similarly, pharmacists must not be allowed bring personal feelings into the equation. Women and couples must make sure that they are given the information that they need in relation to this medication.
This is simply not a moral issue, despite what certain groups would have you think. The moral choices you make should not impinge on the moral choices of others. We are constantly told that reproductive rights come down to moral issues, but the morals of one person have no place in the lives of others. Choice should exist for all people, and this is true of the morning-after pill. No one view has the right to total dominance, so the choice should exist for all.
We can only hope that more pharmacies follow in the footsteps of Boots. To remain ignorant and to choose to curtail reproductive rights in 2011 is completely foolish. We can no longer allow ourselves to remain stuck in an era that allow tragedies like Ann Lovett’s death to occur. Silence is never the answer. Education is key. People will always have sex, so it’s time to equip them as best we can. In allowing the morning-after pill to be made available over the counter, we can only hope that Boots will open the floodgates to sexual and educational empowerment in Ireland.