First published on Saturday the 22nd of July, 2017, this piece comes in at number 20 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2017.
Yesterday, the news emerged that British pharmacy chain Boots had refused to cut the cost of the emergency contraceptive pill. “We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product,” it explained in a statement, leading me to wonder what exactly would constitute “inappropriate use” and how anyone could be “incentivised” to go through the thorughly unpleasant rigmarole of accessing emergency contraception.
The emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) is not a special magical jellybean that women would queue up for if the price was lowered, it is a vital medicine that prevents unwanted pregnancies. The only inappropriate use I can imagine would be taking it for some other non-medically directed reason than preventing an unwanted pregnancy, and given it can cause nausea and a slew of other side effects, there seems to be little chance of that.
While Boots skated precariously close to moralistic slut-shaming, I began musing on the price of the ECP in New Zealand.
I’ve used the morning after pill three times. Once when I was young and didn’t care enough about myself to insist on safe sex, once later when I was stealthed, and the third time when a condom broke. The second and third times I was on the contraceptive pill, but had been taking antibiotics - talk about great timing. On all three occasions it was ridiculously expensive, usually costing around $40 at a pharmacy.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to afford to access emergency contraception. I’ve been game enough to deal with the judgmental looks from pharmacy staff and the mortifying, probing interview with a pharmacist. The third time I sat in a tiny room telling a stranger about my sex life I had to fight to refrain from rolling my eyes at the nature of some of the questions. While there may be a sound medical reason for such questioning, it’s typical that women taking the responsible step of seeking the ECP should be rewarded with an intensely personal chat about their perceived failure to act responsibly.
Each time that I’ve dutifully handed my credit card over to pay for a little pill that would prevent me from becoming pregnant, I’ve been resigned to being financially stung. When I was paying through the nose as a result of being sexually violated and having a condom break, the sense of injustice was palpable.
I didn’t know that I could access the ECP for less or for free at a Family Planning Clinic or through a GP until I started writing this story. The first time I needed emergency contraception, however, I was away from home for work with no transport and a busy schedule, so neither option would’ve been possible. Timing also often makes waiting for a doctor’s appointment unfeasible, as you must take the ECP as soon as possible after unprotected sex in order for it to be effective.
And so a pharmacy seems like the best option. They are perfectly positioned to be the ‘one stop shop’ that women need. They are also perfectly positioned to charge like wounded bulls for a product that women will seek with varying levels of desperation.
I have a question for New Zealand’s pharmacies: Why are you charging so much for emergency contraception? When the ECP is available in Europe for as low as approximately $10, what justification do you have for charging many times that amount?
New Zealand’s women deserve an answer.Support Villainesse