Until recently, the same service was also available in Poland. But as of July 22, the morning after pill will no longer be available over the counter to Polish women.
Instead, women who need emergency contraception will have to visit a doctor and get a prescription.
What’s more, thanks to something called “conscience clause,” doctors can refuse to supply the medication if they feel it conflicts with their own personal values and religious beliefs.
Unsurprisingly, the move has left many Polish women feeling uneasy about their reproductive rights, while human rights advocates across the globe have expressed their concern that the change could result in unwanted pregnancies and put undue stress on rape survivors.
“We consider it as another blow to women’s rights, and will affect teenagers and those in remote rural areas, and will have a particularly catastrophic impact on rape survivors,” Draginja Nadazdin, director of Amnesty International in Poland, said in a statement.
The Dutch liberal MEP, Sophie in ’t Veld, believes the new legislation is a violation of shared European values.
“The current populist national-conservative Polish government is enforcing a sexual counter-revolution against the health interests and wishes of Polish women and girls,” she said.
“Restricting access to the morning-after pill, combined with the right of doctors to refuse treatment based on religious grounds, will have far reaching consequences.”
Further critics of the move argue that doctor’s appointments could take too long to arrange and because the pill has to be taken as soon as possible after sex, this could therefore lead to unwanted pregnancies – even in the case of rape.
Those living in rural areas might also find it difficult to access appointments and young girls may put off or even skip seeing a doctor to access the medication for fear of embarrassment or shame.
A spokesperson for the International Planned Parenthood Federation told the Guardian that there is a real concern the move could also result in some abuse of power. “The new Polish law passed by the country’s archaic authorities allows for the potential 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.”
But Poland’s health minister, Konstanty Radziwill, argues the change in legislation was necessary because hormonal means of contraception were being abused and could result in harmful health effects for some women who take the medication.
However, health experts have dismissed his claims, pointing out that in 2014, the EMA’s committee for medicinal products for human use advised that ellaOne – the most widely stocked morning after pill in Poland – “can be used safely and effectively without medical prescription.”
There are financial implications to consider too. How many women will opt out of seeking emergency contraception because of cost concerns of visiting a doctor and then paying for a prescription?
With a Polish parliamentary election due in two years, the law may yet change again. But until then, Polish women aged 15 and over who need access to the morning after pill will need to book an appointment with a doctor first.
And keep their fingers crossed that their doctor’s personal beliefs won’t interfere with their own reproductive choices.
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