Friday 19 October 2012

Women - just unwilling mothers in waiting

Today the Telegraph offered us a charming little piece on emergency contraception. Titled "Five-day-after pill to be sold at chemists' without prescription", the first glimpse into the overall tone of the article was the subheading

A contraceptive pill which enables unwilling mothers to prevent unwanted pregnancies up to five days after sex, is to be made available to buy at pharmacies for the first time without prescription.

Heard that ladies? Your default state isn't 'human being', it's 'unwilling mother'. If you're not a mother after every time you have sex, you're a baby-murderer. Never mind if you don't want, can't have or already have children, every sperm is sacred, and you're Stalin.

It continues:
The Co-Operative Pharmacy chain is to sell the ‘five-day-after pill’ for £30, with no requirement for women to have had a doctor’s consultation beforehand. Instead they will see a pharmacist.
The demands that women should consult with GPs about emergency contraception are never borne of medical need. It is perfectly adequate to be spoken to by someone who is aware of the correct way to use a medication who can also explain any side-effects. The demands are, instead, borne of the desire to see women get a patronising little lecture about what a harlot she is before being allowed access to medicine. It is also about inconveniencing and wrong-footing us. It shouldn't be possible to just buy these things on demand, because that would stop us having to take a morning off work, go to the GPs, wait around for ages and then have to ask someone for permission to access a contraceptive - and that's if you can even get an appointment within 72 hours. We see this desire to patronise illustrated in the next paragraph:

The firm said it was taking the step to offer women greater choice, but critics said it would encourage “a more casual attitude to sex” and contribute to rises in sexually transmitted diseases.

Do these critics honestly care about women's safety? (Spoiler: no) People are very aware of the need to practice safe sex, and there are a myriad of reasons other than 'having sex without a condom' why they would need to access emergency contraception. For instance, someone in a monogamous relationship who usually takes the pill, but has become ill and vomited up one of her doses. They may have been using a condom, which split. They may have been raped. Do these 'critics' honestly think that someone will have the resources available to pay £30 to buy an obscure pill each time they have sex in order to avoid pregnancy, yet have never heard of condoms? This is just another example of using 'concern' as a mask to advocate the destruction of bodily autonomy.

They also said that ministers had originally given assurances that morning after pills would only ever be prescribed in "exceptional circumstances", but they had slowly become more widely available. There were also concerns that the rules would be flouted and under-18s would gain access to the pill.

Why has the morning after pill been more widely prescribed since becoming available? Because it works and didn't cause the destruction of society as we know it! They have become more widely available because people realised that women didn't need a stern telling off when they needed to access it, because they can make their own decisions about their body! Also, under-18s are both precisely the people who need this pill and the ones who will benefit least from its over-the-counter availability. Why? Under-18s are generally less likely to be well informed about contraception before they have sex,  and more likely to be scared of going to a doctor to obtain it and possibly also more likely to give into pressure to not use condoms. However, they also don't tend to have stacks of £30 lying around, so are unlikely to be able to buy it in the first place.

Called ellaOne, the pill is thought to work by preventing ovulation and fertilisation, and by making the lining of the womb less receptive to a fertilised egg.
It is significantly more effective than the most commonly used morning-after pill, Levonelle, which can be taken up to three days after intercourse.
Remember this bit of science, it will come up later.
Some 250,000 women use emergency contraception every year, overwhelmingly paid for by the NHS.

Except this won't be, it will be paid out of women's own pockets, so what's your point? Even if they did get all the pills on the NHS, that's a fantastic deal for the government. Assume the unlikely scenario that all 250,000 cases of pill-usage actually prevented a pregnancy, and that the NHS paid £30 per pill (which they don't, it is much less, but let's go with the high estimates to make a point). So the state has just paid £7.5million to avoid these pregnancies. OK. Now let's imagine that they weren't prevented. So now we have 250,000 foetuses waiting to be born. It costs £2880 to give birth at the Portland Hospital in London. Now, that's for a vaginal delivery with no complications and an overnight stay. No fuss, no muss. So even though the Portland is private, I'm going to take £2500 as my 'average birth cost', since the lower actual-money cost of an NHS delivery will be averted by non-textbook births being accounted for too. We now have a bill to the state of £625million, which is 83 times as much as the most that the emergency contraceptives could cost, and that's before you factor in child benefit, child tax credit, education, healthcare throughout life etc. etc.

But all this is a moot point. I'm not trying to put a price on a human life, or to say that we should promote or push people into not having children, I'm just saying that it's a bit stupid to drop sarky remarks about how selfish women are being using the public purse to pay for contraceptives when a) this story is about women paying their own money for contraceptives and b) it's cheaper than the alternative.

So what do the Co-op have to say about their new policy?
Jane Devenish, clinical service pharmacist for the chain, said it was “an emotive subject”.
But she said: “We believe that this service will be an important step to offer women access to a wider choice of emergency contraception in a community pharmacy to enable them to make an informed decision.”
She continued: “It is not our place to make a judgement on people’s motives or lifestyles and there can be numerous reasons for seeking medical help.”
When a woman came in asking for emergency contraception, she would be offered a private consultation with a pharmacist, who would advise her which option was best. Only over 18s would be able to buy ellaOne, she said.
Pharmacists would also recommend customers were tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and reminded that only condoms could protect against them.
This part kind of annoys me - because the Co-op are doing the right thing, but having to state that they think it's important that women aren't forced into pregnancy in the most appeasing, apologetic manner. It's not an emotive subject. It's been made emotive because of people insisting that every time a woman has sex but doesn't want a child she is just an 'unwilling mother'. The people accessing this pill all have the same motive - they don't want to get pregnant. The people usually brought up when spewing this 'motives and lifestyles' bunkum is most often the imaginary feckless wastrels from earlier who just go around drunkenly shagging people willy-nilly, condoms having apparently passed them by, then taking great delight in seeking abortion before going to spend all their money (benefits probably) on more WKD and doing more feckless fecking. Firstly, I have to ask how common this stereotype is, because I've certainly never met anyone who fits it - or is it, like the 'scrounger' rhetoric, taking the most wildly exaggerated possibilities and attributing these characteristics, actions and motives to everyone in a certain class? Secondly, and probably most importantly, even if these people do exist, why the fuck would you want them to have children? They sound like they'd be really bad parents guys.

Anyway, the rest of her sop to the wannabe-Gileadeans has been discussed above and should assuage their 'concerns' - the pills won't be sold to under-18s, people trying to get them will still have to face a patronising lecture, they will be informed about the nature and existence of condoms and so on. But lo! What is this? Someone is still not happy! I wonder who it could be?
But Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the organisation had a “profound objection” to ellaOne because “it works on some occasions by terminating the life of the early embryo”.
“We feel women should be told this is one of its modes of action,” adding that SPUC also objected to Levonelle on the same grounds.
He also criticised the Co-Operative Pharmacy for “taking away the safeguard of the appointment with the GP, who has access to the woman’s medical history”.
Oh, that wanker. So Tully objects to this pill because it 'terminates the life of the early embryo' and 'women aren't told about this'? Remember that thing I told you to remember from earlier?
preventing ovulation and fertilisation, and by making the lining of the womb less receptive to a fertilised egg.
So not allowing an egg to implant is now the same as abortion? Well holy shit, my periods have killed more babies than Herod in that case. A person is not pregnant until the egg has implanted on the wall of their uterus. Not allowing this to happen is preventing pregnancy, not aborting a foetus. And guess what Tully? Women are being told! Look, I got told about three paragraphs above in this very article!

So Tully is at best an absolute fucking idiot, and at worst a lying monster who wants to control everyone with a uterus (and probably a few more besides). Now there's another quote. We've had the head of sales and a frothing misogynist speak, so I wonder if any actual scientists will comment on how the pill wo... oh fuck, look who's turned up now:

Norman Wells, of the Family Educational Trust, said ellaOne was “likely to act" by inducing abortion, and that widening access would serve to increase STI rates.
He said: "When the morning-after pill was first licensed for use, the government gave assurances that it would be kept under the control of doctors and only supplied on prescription in exceptional circumstances.
"But since it has been made available over the counter in pharmacies, and in some parts of the country is being provided free of charge to girls and young women, its use has multiplied."
He also argued research showed morning after pills had failed to reduce abortion rates.
“Instead, young people in particular have been lulled into a false sense of security, taken a more casual attitude to sex, and become exposed to an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections," he said.
Oh yeah?

The article finishes with a short paragraph detailing where the Co-op sales trials will be held.

So there you have it. If you want access to emergency contraception you're:

  • an 'unwilling mother'
  • a slut
  • probably riddled with STDs
  • a scrounger
  • need lecturing about your morals
  • advocating for teenagers to have risky sex

How many times does this article mention reasons other than 'feckless idiocy' for wanting emergency contraception? None. So, off the top of my head, here's a list of a few:

  • Failure of regular LARC
  • Split condom
  • Not allowed to access contraceptives by abusive partner
  • Rape
  • Couldn't take time off work to renew LARC prescription
  • Can't access a GP because of homelessness

That list took about 30 seconds, which I'm sure is a hell of a lot longer than 'Medical Correspondent' (really?!) Stephen Adams took to stop judgement-wanking over women who need emergency contraceptives with his super-Christian, anti-science misogynist buddies to do some actual research into this story.

PEE ESS: Formatting will be fixed later, when I'm not busy.


  1. well said Nat.

    i can't really add anything with a comment other than well said over and over!

  2. oh, except to add that access to MAP shouldn't have impact on std rates unless sex education fails to teach people that only condoms prevent stds. And the people who are quoted are the same people who are against comprehensive sex education, thereby creating a society where people are having sex without good access to info about contraception. duh!

    It's not that I expect any better from the Telegraph, but I am so fed up of all the discourse around women's reproductive rights at the moment.

  4. You've gone in my 'Politics' folder. Well argued!

  5. I think when it comes to talking about emergency contraception, everyone likes to paint a picture of a woman who has done everything in her control to prevent pregnancy before all the sex. And while obviously that makes a stronger argument, I think it's important to point out that sometimes, some women (just like men) just don't think beforehand.
    Women get drunk or take drugs and that can make horny, and that can make them make bad decisions. And I believe that when you wake up in a strange bed with that sinking feeling of realisation of just how stupid you are... you deserve contraception then too!
    It shouldn't be about WHY we need it, it should just be that we DO need it, and then we go to get it on our lunch break after we've been to get our hangover-reducing mini cheddars.
    Also the Telegraph is awful. Someone brought it into my house the other day and I still haven't got rid of the smell.

  6. But what about the men?

    Seriously, all us selfish unwilling fathers who wear condoms while having sex.