Fri, Jan 16, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Experts split over morning-after pill

JUVENILE PREGNANCY Doctors and activists agreed that the teenage pregnancy and abortion rate is a big problem, but differed over access to the post-coital pill

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Medical experts backed moves to reclassify the morning-after pill as over-the-counter medication yesterday, though women's groups expressed varied opinions.

"Past research has shown that the morning-after pill is a safe emergency contraceptive method. In order to allow women to promptly obtain the medication, the pill should be available over the counter so that they don't have to go to the doctor first and delay the [process]," Taipei Medical University Hospital gynecologist Liu Wei-min (劉偉民) said.

Liu said that the morning-after pill did not induce an abortion, but delayed ovulation, preventing sperm and ova from fertilizing in the womb.

"Taiwan is a country with a high abortion rate, and statistics have shown that countries which promote the use of the morning-after pill have a much lower abortion rate," Liu said.

"If the morning-after pill can be classified as over-the-counter medication, it should prevent more abortions from taking place," Liu said.

Liu was speaking during a public hearing held by Taiwan Solidarity Union whip Lo Chih-ming (羅志明) to discuss the ramifications of reclassifying the medication.

Lo said government statistics showed the birth rate of teenage girls aged 15 to 19 was 1.3 percent, the highest in Asia.

Although women's groups also expressed support for the promotion and use of the morning-after pill, most did not focus on the issue of over-the-counter availability.

"Condoms remain the primary contraceptive method we want to promote, but past polls have shown that 40 percent of teen-agers who are sexually active do not use them during sexual intercourse," said Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容), director of the Garden of Hope Foundation.

"If teenagers do not use condoms during sexual intercourse, it is necessary to promote the use of the morning-after pill to reduce the loss of new lives. The last thing we want to see is teenagers going through with an abortion," she said.

But Sue Huang (黃淑英), chairperson of Taiwan Women's Link, had a different view.

"I fear that the promotion of the morning-after pill will result in teenagers becoming even less willing to use condoms. If they can think of contraceptive matters within 24 hours of having sex, why can't they do so 24 hours beforehand?" Huang said.

"And anyway, the safety of the pill is still in doubt. There is no research available on the effects of the pill for long-term users, and it's not clear that the pill doesn't harm teenagers," she said.

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