The Case for Over-the-Counter Contraceptives
Pregnancy: every university girl's fantasy. Between quaffing down Pablos at the Union and cramming 12 lectures in 2x speed at the Library, the only thing that could make this experience better would be a pregnancy scare.
For some, the healthcare process at St Andrews has been relatively simple; however, for roughly 50% of the sexually active student body, securing contraceptive pills is akin to obtaining Shawarma cheese fries at 2 am on a Saturday. It’s this unnecessary difficulty, combined with my incessant need to dismantle the patriarchy, that has motivated me to present you with the case for over-the-counter pills. I’ll start by discerning the difference between emergency contraception and common birth control. Emergency contraception, better known as the morning after pill, can be sold to any woman above the age of 16 in store. The pill, commonly recognized by its 10 foot wide unfoldable map of possible side effects, is to be taken daily over a long stretch of time, meaning that obtaining it without meeting a GP or pharmacist is quite difficult. Even then, only two pills — the Hana and Lovima tablets — are available for purchase without a prescription.
Now, while recent laws passed have classified emergency contraception pills and birth control pills as non-prescription, pharmacies are still required to “meet” with every customer attempting to purchase those forms of birth control. This means that the purchaser will always be the consumer, absolving the male partner of the responsibility and hence unease of making the trip for the pill. Presently, there are no sexual health clinics in St Andrews, meaning that to acquire a prescription for birth control you are required to consult with a GP outside of town or online. Of course, ensuring the health safety of every consumer is crucial, but these “pharmacy chats” consist mostly of identity confirmation and questions on why the contraception is required. I staunchly believe that the average woman is perfectly capable of making her own decisions about her own health — should she need to consult with a pharmacist she will, but why force upon her the hassle of one?
In a slightly larger town, with more than two pharmacies and no desperate shortage of staff, this consultation would not necessarily be a hassle. In St Andrews, though, attaining one of these “consultations” can be tedious to say the least. Meeting with a pharmacist demands availability that our understaffed chemists simply don’t have. Take Boots for example: its location makes it the simplest pharmacy to go to for most medicinal products. Meaning that at almost all times, the line will be filled with 10 - 15 hysterically coughing students, struck with the notoriously months-long freshers flu. Boots requires each customer attempting to get emergency contraceptive to have a “friendly, reassuring and confidential chat” with one of their pharmacists (Boots). If you don’t arrive early enough, the pharmacist will tell you that they’ve run out of availability for the day, leaving you pill-less and increasingly anxious. And since every store mutually locks its doors at five, your only option is to journey over to either Lloyds or Morrisons. Bear in mind that for emergency contraceptives, you only have so much time before a late night mistake could turn into a very rude awakening.
The pandemic’s repercussions, combined with the shortage of GPs, only solidifies the growing need for pills to be fully accessible over the counter. Back in 2013, the US approved selling over-the-counter emergency contraceptives to women over the age of fifteen without a consultation. And they are in no way the only country to have already been selling emergency contraceptives over the counter. If the nation known for its absolute catastrophe of a healthcare system can sell these pills over the counter, I see little reason for why the UK would not.
A student’s life is complicated enough; tack on the burdens that come with female anatomy and you’ve got 50% of the student body prone to an avoidable risk. This is not to say that St Andrews lacks awareness on sexual health: between sex and health-positive societies and BDSM-themed Union events, the university has played quite a positive role in increasing awareness around this subject. However, we as a society cannot place the burden of pregnancy protection on women alone. It’s time to push lawmakers and pharmaceutical companies to give easier access to contraceptives for all women. There are only so many times a girl can strap on her hiking boots for the perilous journey through hill and highway to Morrisons.