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Pharmacists should be open and honest on morning-after pill - 31 December 2003

Pharmacists should be honest and open with women seeking the morning-after pill, Postinor-2 (Levonorgestrel), making it clear that it can prevent the implantation of a human embryo causing an abortion, spokesperson for the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations, Mary Joseph, said today.

From tomorrow, 1 January 2004, Postinor-2 will be available over the counter at pharmacies without prescription.

"Postinor-2 works by either preventing ovulation or by preventing a newly conceived human embryo from implanting in a woman's uterus," Ms Joseph said. "Clearly, acting against the implantation of an embryo is something that happens after conception and is not a 'contraceptive' action. Pharmacists should make this clear to women seeking the morning-after pill so they can give their full informed consent to use the drug.

"Any attempt to hide this vital information from women would show contempt for the right of women to full information on drugs they use, especially ones with ethically contentious effects like abortion. Pharmacists do not have a right to make that decision for women. Not telling women may risk legal action from women angry they have not been fully informed.

"The morning-after pill is a hormonal preparation 50 times stronger than the mini pill. Prescriptions are necessary for the mini pill and many other hormonal drugs.

"Postinor-2's manufacturer product information lists a number of risks to women and recommends that the risk-benefit ratio of using the drug should be assessed by a medical practitioner in discussion with the patient. For example, women should not use the drug if they are already pregnant. This involves doctors undertaking a medical examination for each patient. Pharmacists cannot offer this medical examination," said Ms Joseph.

"Pharmacists have no space for consultation other than their counter, which does not make it likely that a full and frank medical history can be taken. Many women would not feel comfortable sharing intimate personal information in so public a setting.

"Media reports indicate that pharmacists are being advised to create private counselling areas to counsel women on use of this drug. There are almost 5,000 pharmacies in Australia. They will not all be remodelling in the next week to increase privacy for women, especially to create a counselling space to meet dispensing guidelines for just one product."

Contact:    Mary Joseph, spokesperson for the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations, telephone 02 6253 3100