Morning-After Pill Plan Flawed, Undermines Parents

Media Release 24 October 2013
Family First NZ is labelling moves by Pharmac to roll out a nationwide scheme to allow pharmacies to offer the Emergency Contraception Pill free of charge to children as young as 12 as flawed and a waste of taxpayer money, and says the evidence suggests it will do more harm than good, and will undermine the important role of parents.

“Sexually active teens need parental involvement – not emergency contraception – and pharmacies should not be handing out contraception like lollies. It is folly to think that teenage girls can be trusted with a powerful hormone drug available over the counter without medical supervision. Parents assisted by their doctors should be informed and involved in the medical care and needs of their children,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“Pharmac have obviously not done their research, or are simply ignoring it. Research has consistently shown that increased access to emergency contraception does not result in lower pregnancy rates among adolescents and young adults, but can be associated with an increased incidence of sexual activity and sexually transmitted infections.”

In 2010, the Auckland District Health Board announced that it would cease funding a free morning-after pill scheme after analysis of their 12 month trial of the programme showed that there was no statistically significant change in the Auckland abortion rate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) acknowledges that the morning-after pill is not proven to reduce teen pregnancy rates. A 2006 report, which appeared in Obstetrics and Gynecology, reviewed 23 studies and found that “to date, no study has shown that increased access to this method reduces unintended pregnancy or abortion rates.”

A 2012 US study found increased access to emergency contraception increases the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, risk taking and a false sense of security, while doing nothing to reduce the number of abortions. The study found that more widespread use of the morning-after pill led “led to a statistically significant increase in STD rates (gonorrhoea rates), both overall and for females.”

A recent working paper for the National Poverty Center also reviewed 23 studies of emergency contraception and concluded “that the evidence points against there being an effect of EC on pregnancy or abortion rates.” Their conclusions confirm a study in the Journal of Health Economics in January 2011, conducted in the United Kingdom, which found that widespread access to emergency contraception did nothing to reduce pregnancy but increased STD rates by 12%.

Anna Glasier, director of the Lothian primary care NHS trust in Edinburgh, said several studies, including one she directed, have shown that easy access to emergency contraception has failed to have an impact. In fact pregnancy and abortion rates continue to rise in the UK, which has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Europe.

Despite “soaring” rates of morning-after pill use in Sweden, since it was made readily available there 12 years ago, the Swedish abortion rate has increased. According to Catharina Zätterström, deputy chairwoman at the Swedish Association of Midwives: “our hope was that the pill would bring down the abortion rates… We really thought it would have an influence, but it hasn’t worked out that way. It’s very strange and saddening.” 

And in 2011, the highly regarded Cochrane Library Review published a review of 11 trials involving 7,695 women from the US, China, India and Sweden which showed that making emergency contraception easily accessible did nothing to reduce the pregnancy rate.

There are also concerns that the morning-after pill could reduce the fertility of teenage girls later in life, according to a report by the Scottish Council of Human Bioethics. Glasgow GP Anne Williams said: ‘We’d be worried about hormonal disturbances which could affect the development of young girls and their future fertility. It could be like putting the wrong grade of oil into a car – it might grind to a halt.’ But no studies have been carried out on its effect on young girls.

“Teen girls deserve to be informed of the serious consequences of early sexual activity including the impact on emotional and mental welfare and academic performance, rather than given a false sense of security and being encouraged to take risks by adults who should know better,” says Mr McCoskrie.

“The Canterbury District Health Board is to be congratulated for putting Pharmac in their place.”

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