This is a sidebar from an article published in 2002 about emergency contraception (EC), sometimes called “the morning-after pill” or “Plan B” and the debate then occurring in the USA about making it an over-the-counter medication rather than one available only on prescription. It is sad to note that the debate over this in the USA is not yet resolved, with anti-contraception activists claiming erroneously that the contraceptive action is an abortifacent. The whole article is interesting, but this bit about how the French, whose abortion rate is one of the lowest in the world, have handled the issue jumped out at me,
Improving Access: The French Experience
The abortion rate for France is already one of the lowest in the world: At 12 per 1,000 women aged 14-44, it is half the U.S. rate. Even so, when emerging evidence in the late 1990s suggested that the rate was stabilizing instead of continuing to decrease, the French government responded swiftly – in part, by providing better access to emergency contraception.
Emergency contraception has been available in France since the early 1970s, and a product specifically packaged for postcoital use became available in May 1999. Just one month later, the French government decided to switch the drug to nonprescription status, making it available on request from pharmacists, who in France are gatekeepers for all medications. (France does not have an over-the-counter status equivalent to that in the United States.) Women who purchase emergency contraception from pharmacies can have 65% of the cost reimbursed to them under national health insurance; the method is available for free from family planning clinics.
The French government has taken extraordinary steps to ensure that adolescents in particular have access to the method. After 18 months of debate, the national assembly passed a law in December 2000 allowing public and parochial high school nurses to provide emergency contraception. In January 2002, French officials issued a decree allowing minors to obtain emergency contraceptives from a pharmacy at no charge and without requiring authorization from a parent; pharmacists are required to counsel young women and provide them with information about other forms of birth control.
Since 1999, over 1.5 million treatments have been sold in France, 97% without a prescription. There have been no reports of adverse events. Moreover, experts note that widespread availability of emergency contraception has spurred a renewed interest in all methods of contraception. “There is a more open discussion – among pharmacists, nurses in school, across all society – about what to do to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases,” says Elizabeth Aubeny, president of the French Association for Contraception. “And the more you talk about contraception, the more women use it and the fewer abortions there are.”
Australia made EC available without prescription in January 2004. As I’m outside the firing lines on this at the moment (vasectomised husband and only just-turned-pubescent children) I have no idea how comprehensive the general sexual education in Australia about EC is, but I don’t think we’re as comprehensive as the French. It is obviously an area I do need to become more informed about, because I don’t think that last line in the quote above can be emphasised enough:
the more you talk about contraception, the more women use it and the fewer abortions there are.