Photo: “Members of Korea Pro-Life, an anti-abortion group, protest against the Korea Food and Drug Administration’s decision to make emergency contraceptives available without prescription, in front of the administration’s Seoul branch, Thursday. / Korea Times photo by Bae Woo-han”
The Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) announced a re-categorization plan for medicines including contraceptives on Thursday. According to the plan, morning-after pills or the emergency contraceptives will become available without prescription and can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy. On the other hand, birth control pills, which used to be non-prescription, will now require a visit to the doctor.
“[South Korea] first categorized birth control pills as non-prescription because it was promoting birth control. But women taking them need regular check-ups and doctors’ direction because the pills have side effects such as thrombosis, especially when taken with other drugs. They also affect hormone levels,” a KFDA official said. The official added that such pills are already offered as prescription medicine in many advanced nations.
Birth control pills are usually taken regularly for a long period, while the morning-after pills are taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
Some doctors argue that the distribution of morning-after pills should require doctor’s supervision for safety reasons. Also, the Korean Pharmaceutical Association showed concern and stated, “By requiring a doctor’s prescription, women taking the [birth control pills] will have to pay 4.4-5.3 times more in medical fees.” The Association, however, welcomed OTC morning-after pills, arguing that the easier access to the drugs will prevent unwanted pregnancies that often lead to abortion.
In contrast, the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists insisted that the countries permitting OTC morning-after pills didn’t see a reduction in abortion rates, and claimed that misuse of such pills would damage a woman’s reproductive functions and easy access to those pills would encourage an irresponsible sexual culture. Likewise, religious groups such as the Catholic Diocese of Cheongju claimed that OVC morning-after pills would promote a “culture of death.”
The KFDA said public opinion on the issue would be collected before the plan is finalized in July.