Morning-after pill could be sold over the counterEarlier this month, a female teenager dressed in a high school uniform cautiously stepped in to a pharmacy in Youngdeung-po, western Seoul.
She asked the pharmacist for an emergency contraceptive pill, but her demand was rejected as the 58-year-old pharmacist surnamed Park said “giving out pills without receiving a doctor’s order is against the current law.”
Park then asked the student how many hours had passed since she had sex, but the student shyly walked out of the store.
As it stands now, a prescription is needed to purchase pills at nearby pharmacies that help prevent pregnancy after sex if taken within 72 hours, but the government is considering the option of allowing these pills to be sold without a prescription.
Health and Welfare Ministry officials note that the government is leaning toward allowing morning-after contraceptive pills to be sold without a prescription.
However, religious groups argue that it’s an act that “devalues life.” Medical groups worry about side effects should the pills be abused.
“Around 60 percent of the morning-after pills we sell monthly are purchased by middle- and high-school students,” Park said.
“They normally visit us on late Saturday afternoon or evening, and it breaks my heart seeing them denied the pills because they haven’t received medical approval.”
According to sources, in areas like Sinchon and Myeong-dong, where many young people enjoy night life and dating, pharmacies are often frequented by those looking for morning-after pills.
They are often not aware that they need a medical prescription, and since hospitals are closed during the weekend, they are not able to receive the papers from doctors.
What is also considered a burden is that a doctor’s consultation and medicine fee is not covered by insurance and can range between 22,000 won ($19) and 25,000 won in total.
The government hasn’t decided which direction it will take. The decision is most likely to allow easier purchasing access.
“There will be no problem in terms of safety even though we allow morning-after pills to be sold without medical prescriptions,” said a high-level official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare. “But since there are counterarguments, we’re still contemplating this issue.”
The ministry expects that offering more convenience in purchasing emergency contraceptive pills will help the country reduce the number of unwanted abortions.
It also expects the country to see fewer unmarried mothers in their teens, the number of which is growing by 2,000 to 3,000 every year. In around 40 countries including the United States, Canada and France, pharmacies sell morning-after pills without prescriptions.
Civic groups including the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice are currently urging the government to change the law to allow easier access.
By Park Su-ryon, Park Yu-mi [firstname.lastname@example.org]