It appears that the Polish government is turning the morning-after pill into the only-if-your-doctor-thinks-it’s-okay pill. Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party proposed and
PiS claims that the new law will protect women, since a doctor must evaluate a woman’s health before she can receive the emergency birth control. The scientists and medical professionals of Europe’s highly respected, decentralized medical agency, European Medicines Agency (EMA), disagree. They state that there is nothing about the pill from which women need to be protected. In fact, the EMA recommended that Poland’s most popular morning-after pill, ellaOne, should continue to be available without a prescription because it “can be used safely and effectively without medical prescription.”
To be clear, the EMA finds that ellaOne works by preventing or delaying ovulation (the release of an egg which marks the window of time wherein a woman can become pregnant). The drug is most effective if taken within 24 hours of unprotected intercourse or failed contraceptive. The drug will have no contraceptive effect if taken 5 days after such intercourse. The emergency contraceptive can only prevent the beginning of a pregnancy. It cannot interfere with a preexisting pregnancy, and it is not the abortion pill. The abortion pill is governed under different legislation.
A spokesperson for Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European commissioner for health, says the commissioner “personally regrets” the recent decision on the morning-after pill. Similarly, members of parliament (MPs) and human rights groups echo his dismay.
Former Polish health minister MP Bartosz Arłukowicz explained the obstacles women will now have to endure in order to gain access to the pill. “Making emergency contraception available on prescription-only means it will not be available at all to Polish women living outside of big cities and those who cannot afford to pay for a private appointment with gynecologist [sic],” he said. Additionally, getting a doctor’s appointment can take days, and the longer a woman waits to take the drug, the less effective the drug is at preventing pregnancy.
In Poland, doctors have the right to refuse to treat a patient based on their religious preferences, and some women worry about their ability to receive unbiased health care. Moreover, the International Planned Parenthood Federation worries that the law will negatively impact rape survivors. “In Poland, even if you are a teenage rape victim, you will now have to fight to find a doctor who might, or might not, help you,” said a spokesperson for the organization. “The new Polish law passed by the country’s chauvinist authorities allow abuse of power by doctors who may feel that they have a right to judge the sexual lives of women based on their own moral convictions. As Europeans, we cannot stay still and watch.”
On a similar note, Draginja Nadaždin, director of Amnesty International in Poland, worries for rape survivors and women with limited access to health care. “We consider it as another blow to women’s rights,” Nadaždin said. “[The legislation] will affect teenagers and those in remote rural areas, and will have a particularly catastrophic impact on rape survivors.”
Arguably, it’s difficult to craft legislation that leaves everyone happy, but legislation that drastically reduces women’s access to emergency contraception is clearly problematic.
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