Poland to ban prescription-free emergency contraception

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling conservatives plan to reinstate a prescription requirement for “morning after” emergency contraceptive pills, a move critics say reflects Catholic Church pressure and may lead to unwanted pregnancies.

Supporters of Law and Justice party walk during pro-government demonstration in Warsaw, Poland December 13, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Since sweeping to power last October, the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has taken steps to redesign Poland’s young democracy to reflect the country’s traditional Catholic values and more independence from Brussels.

The party has already said it will end state funding for in-vitro fertilization (IVF), saying it is too expensive. The powerful Polish Catholic Church strongly opposes IVF, as well as morning after pills.

There is now just one morning after pill available in Poland without a prescription to women 15 and over. It became available over the counter early last year, following a decision of the European Commission to authorize its prescription-free sale.

The Polish health ministry wants to reinstate the prescription requirement about the next three months.

“This steps seems justified out of concern for women’s well-being, especially that of the youngest women,” spokeswoman Milena Kruszewska said.

Critics of the plan to ban prescription-free morning after pills say it will make it more expensive and more difficult for women to obtain them, especially in smaller towns.

“This is a politically and ideologically motivated decision not based on the concern for women’ heath and safety,” said Natalia Broniarczyk, spokeswoman for the Federation for Women and Family Planning.

“In all countries that curb access to contraception and legal and safe abortion, the black market grows,” Broniarczyk said.

Morning after pills, which are most effective when taken in the first few hours following unprotected sex or after the failure of other contraception measures, are available without a prescription in most EU countries.

The availability of the pills reflects recommendations from the European Medicines Agency which has said they can be used safely and effectively without medical prescription and that removing the prescription requirement would speed up women’s access to the medicine.

However, the Polish Roman Catholic Church considers using a morning after pill a serious sin.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS who analysts say exerts large influence over government policies, said last year there are no other moral guideposts in Poland apart from the teachings of the Catholic church.

Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said last year that using morning after pills amounts to “express abortion”.

Poland remains one of Europe’s most Catholic nations, with about 90 percent of citizens declaring allegiance to the church. Yet the clergy’s sway over the hearts and souls of regular churchgoers had been waning and church attendance falling.

Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Tom Heneghan