Spain improves access to Emergency Contraception

13th May 2009

Spain said Monday it plans to make the contraceptive morning-after pill available over the counter in pharmacies without prescription within three months.

Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said the pill will be sold with no age restrictions. She said it did not constitute a means of aborting pregnancies but should not be regarded as a routine method of contraception.

"It's an emergency method for dealing with unplanned and unexpected sexual relations without protection," she said.

At the moment, the pill is available free at government health centers in some regions of Spain while in other regions it is more difficult to obtain. Some areas require a prescription while others do not; the government now plans to make it mandatory for all regions to dispense it without a prescription.

"The aim is to make it available to anyone who wants it without any difficulty," Jimenez said.

Spain's state-run health care system is managed by regional administrations, which have a fair amount of leeway in implementing guidelines from Madrid, and the political persuasion of those in power can be felt at the doctor-patient level.

In some parts of Spain women sometimes have to go to several doctors before finding one who will prescribe the morning-after pill, said Concha Martin, director of the Family Planning Association of Madrid.

Martin said the pill is hard to get, for instance, in conservative-run Valencia in the east but easy to obtain in Socialist-run Catalonia in the northeast and Andalusia in the south.

Jimenez said statistics in countries that have made the pill available over the counter, such as the United States and France, show it has helped reduce the number of abortions significantly.

Of the 112,000 women who had abortions in Spain in 2007, she said 6,000 were minors.

The measure is likely to irk the Catholic Church and Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party.

The Socialist government has angered both groups with plans to reform the country's restrictive 1985 abortion law, principally to allow pregnancy terminations on demand up to 14 weeks.

The original article from AP wire service can be accessed here

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