The Moaning After

There may be a flurry of posts over the next few days/weeks. I am still pondering what to do about this blog, but in the meantime will continue to comment as/when I see fit, until I’ve come to a firm decision. Warning, the following contains bucket-loads of snark.

This blogpost from young women complaining about their experiences of obtaining the morning-after-pill (MAP) or to use the less emotionally laden term “emergency contraception caught my eye earlier today (h/t @RiverFlows77), which bears dissemination.

Like much clinical phraseology,  ’emergency contraception’ is in itself an ingenious piece of newspeak, cleverly masking with semantics, not only the effect of the pill, namely very early abortion, but also the circumstances in which it be might be employed. Contraception is a way of preventing conception, in many instances, conception, the fusion of the sperm with the egg, will have already taken place and thus the morning-after pill will prevent this already fertilised and dividing zygote or if 5 days have elapsed, blastocyst, from implanting into the womb lining. The newer version of the morning-after pill introduced in 2010 can now be taken up to 5 days after intercourse, so it is not distortion or misleading to discuss the morning-after pill as being a form of early abortion. Undeterred the pharma companies have engaged in a clever piece of casuistry, declaring that abortion constitutes termination of pregnancy and that pregnancy does not begin until the fertilised egg is implanted in the womb lining.

Anyone who has ever been pregnant will testify to the specious nature of this reasoning. Pregnancy starts on day 1 of the cycle in which she conceives. This is why a pregnancy is dated from the first day of the last period. Conception, implantation and the maturing of the fetus are all part of the pregnancy process. Medically speaking, a pregnancy does not start at conception. Thus one’s pregnancy is always two weeks beyond the age of the fetus. A woman who is, for example, 8 weeks pregnant, will have conceived 6 weeks previously. So whilst the pregnancy is 8 weeks old, the age of the fetus is only 6 weeks.  Even if one wishes to reject the medical definition of a pregnancy, conception is the process of the sperm meeting the egg. Therefore the idea that the morning-after pill is always contraception (preventing or against conception) is clearly flawed.

But back to the complaints of the women seeking to obtain the morning-after pill, some Fisking seems in order.

Woman Number 1

So I went in and asked and the woman pharmacist told me that due to her religious beliefs she was unable to serve me the morning after pill. Not only did the way she said it make me feel like a complete slut, Sorry is this a parody? Since when did “I’m sorry but due to my religious beliefs I’m unable to serve you that product” equate to “begone you sinning dog of a whore, you shameless slut”??!! Not wishing to be complicit in the procuring of an abortion makes no comment upon the sexual morals of another person, nor does it imply any such sentiment. It is simply one person acting in accordance with their conscience, in this case dictated by religious beliefs, but as I have said on countless occasions, a sense that abortion is wrong does not require recourse to theism. This is the crux of the matter – there is no right not to be offended by the beliefs of others. The lady wanting to obtain the morning after pill wished to prevent the pharmacist from exercising her freedom of religion, because it made her feel uncomfortable. This is bigotry in action. 

it also meant that I came very close to not being able to get hold of any- which obviously could have lead to like, much bigger issues, especially as personally I don’t think I’d ever get an abortion. To point out the obvious, if you don’t think you’d ever get an abortion, perhaps you might want to think a bit harder about the effects of the morning-after pill. The Pharmacy is not the only place that one can get hold of the morning-after pill, GP clinics operate out of hours services and will dispense the morning-after pill, as will hospital A&E departments. The issue here is that Boots did not have another pharmacist available  to dispense the pill, hence the lady had to go elsewhere. Her complaint was that someone’s religious beliefs meant that she, as a consumer, was inconvenienced. If she desperately needed the pill, then there would have been another Pharmacy and/or medical clinics able to provide this for her. Her issue here should be with Boots, not a person’s rights of religious expression.

I completely respect everyone’s right to their own beliefs and opinions and while I would never judge anybody for their decisions I don’t think it’s right i get judged for mine- especially for people who are acting in a professional capacity. Good. That’s nice. Who said you were judged? That’s your own insecurity coming out there. I could never be involved in procuring an abortion for anybody, but that does not mean that I judge those who have them. I recognise that women often feel compelled and have no other choice; not sanctioning a choice is not the same thing as judging the morality of another, or stating that person is innately bad or flawed. This is all about how you feel. How do you think the person feels who would be forced to do something that is in their eyes deeply immoral, just so you don’t have a few minutes of feeling a bit embarrassed? Sorry, I’m not able to serve you that due to my religious beliefs, is neither a judgement upon morality, nor unprofessional. Did she give you a lecture on sexual morality? Or simply state the facts?

It was a bloody pharmacy and though she is perfectly entitled to her own beliefs i really don’t think its fair she be working there if those beliefs interfere with her ability to do her job. There should at least be another pharmacist on duty when she is who is able to dispense emergency contraception.  Her job is to dispense medicines in order to cure and prevent symptoms of disease and ensure that the medication is suitable for the patient. It is not her job to dispense medication that might cause an early abortion and the ending of a human life – she is protected under conscience rights. Your beef should be with the Pharmacy, not with someone exercising their freedom of religion.

I’m a vegetarian but if I got a job at Tesco I wouldn’t refuse to serve anybody buying meat. I don’t like the idea of forcing people to act against their own principles however STRAW MAN KLAXON. Firstly the right of people to eat meat is not generally held as being a contentious issue in society. Whether or not people should abort their unborn children is hotly contested and is still a relatively new development in society. Whilst women since the dawn of time have attempted to kill their unborn children, for centuries society, shaped by Judeo-Christian tradition, have explicitly rejected this as being desirable and have outlawed the practice. 

If you felt that strongly that eating meat was wrong, your principles would prevent you from being involved in anything that encouraged or condoned the practice. Furthermore selling meat is an altogether different concept. The animal is already dead and is being passed onto the consumer in processed form. How would you feel about working in an abattoir or selling equipment or supplies to the meat-industry? In the case of the morning-after pill, a Pharmacist is actively involved in a process that could result in an early abortion and could be held partly responsible. 

so if there are doctors who really don’t feel they can perform abortions, or pharmacists who don’t feel they can dispense the morning after pill, as long as their personal belief doesn’t inhibit my ability to get that service, I don’t think it’s a problem. so basically as long as there is always somebody else available at that time who can and will do it for me with the same competency and immediacy. I totally respect their opinions but i expect them to respect, if disagree with, mine.”  It’s all about ME ME ME. You can do whatever you like unless and until it inconveniences ME, then it’s how very dare you, because I am more important than you and respecting my opinion is doing what I demand you to. Not dispensing the morning-after pill is not disrespecting your opinion, it is an exercise of conscience rights – to disrespect your opinion would be to erm, fisk your self-centred moaning. Actually, I don’t disrespect your opinion, or your right to express it, I do however take objection when you wish to impose your right not to be inconvenienced upon someone else’s deeply held conscience rights. The Pharmacist did not disrespect you – she disagreed with you. What’s the problem? Don’t impose illiberal restrictions on others for your own convenience. That way lies a dangerous path. 

Woman Number 2

Before I discuss my personal experiences with contraception, I want to draw attention to the growing ‘hate’ against birth control, especially in America and increasingly here in the UK. Yay! Obligatory comparison with America, put the frighteners on everyone, the first rule of any discussion pertaining to “reproductive rights” in the UK. BINGO!!!

In North Carolina a few weeks ago, New Hanover County Chairman Ted Davis spoke in rejection of a state grant to cover the costs of family-planning for those earning low wages. Ted Davis is quoted in the Wilmington Star-News as saying, “If [they were] responsible and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t have this problem”. Because having sex without contraception when you can’t afford a child or afford/don’t-want-to-have an abortion is responsible, right?

Having sex when you can’t afford a child or afford/don’t want to have an abortion is, if not irresponsible, rather naive, even if one is using contraception. I hate to break it  you lovely, but *whispers* CONTRACEPTION CAN & DOES FAIL!!! I know this may come as something as a shock, but no method of contraception is 100% effective. There is one sure-fire way not get pregnant and that’s not to have sex. Now, I’m not going to get into the specifics about the political issue here, not least because I know nothing about this specific state grant, but it seems that Mr Davis has a point. I can also see why, folk such as Calah Alexander in America, might be annoyed that her son doesn’t qualify for free life-saving treatment and yet taxes are spent on birth-control.

 Planning to be sexually active (woo-hoo!), and not wanting immediate children, I went to the nearest doctor’s surgery and asked about contraception. Cor, aren’t you grown up? You enjoy sex and want to tell everyone that you’re having it? Round of applause. How very empowered. How novel, a woman having sex and liking it. Wonders will never cease.

Hmm…they kept asking me if I was in a relationship. I was, but it really shouldn’t have mattered, seeing as they’d already cleared up the ‘Do-you-have-an-STD’ matter, cue scary nurse voice. Actually they were doing their job in terms of attempting to help you look after your sexual health. If you were not in a relationship and planning to have casual sex, then it is their duty to advise you of the best way of protecting yourself from disease. Asking if you have an STD, is a professional responsibility. Scary nurse voice is not as scary as untreated chlamydia, syphilis, genital herpes or Gonorrhea. Grown up enough to want to have regular sex and yet avoid the possibility of children, but intimidated by the mention of potential consequences of unprotected sex. Hmmm. I see…

Meh, decided not to press that point – really excited to be getting contraception.  You really should get out more.

After more than a year of using the injection and then The Pill (cue capital letters for awesomeness) I took the advice of various nurses/doctors and took a short break from hormone contraception. Bless. The Pill. Awesome. So awesome that the medical profession decided that a prolonged dose of artificial hormones were not good for her long-term health. 

This is where the story gets a little scary kids! One time the condom broke – Yep. It happens. Oh wait. Hang on. Aren’t condoms supposed to prevent AIDS? Gosh isn’t the Catholic Church iniquitous in its teaching that they aren’t 100% failsafe…?

Cue the tale about her going to get emergency contraception. I say tale, I mean something of an Odyssey. Cue lots of swearing.

 Feeling (a lot) braver than I thought, I went straight up to the till, and I asked for what I wanted. The person at the counter freezes at my face (I did look young, but was at University age) and says in a cold voice that they ‘will need to talk to me in private’. Hmm, ominous. But, I think, they are just being professional. In my mind I am telling myself that I know they cannot sell/give the emergency contraception without assuring themselves that I am not pregnant, or underage. Cold voice? Gracious, I thought I was the Queen of Melodrama!!! Ominious? Or as you observe, simply doing their job? The morning-after pill is multiple the strength of a normal daily birth control pill. In studies, approximately 1 out of 4 women experience menstrual bleeding and nausea, approximately 1 out of 5 women experience abdominal pain, fatigue and headache. Other side effects include changes in menstrual cycle, breast tenderness, dizziness, vomiting and you may be at an increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy. 

If you have the following conditions: past heart attack or stroke, blood clots in the legs or lungs, breast cancer, liver cancer, epilepsy, cardiovascular or kidney disease, migraines ,diabetes or hypertension, then the morning-after pill is not suitable for you. Given all of that, of course the pharmacist has to do their job in ensuring that the patient is able to safely take the pill as well as warn them of the potential side effects and check that they are not already pregnant. If a woman presenting does look young, then of course their age should be checked and relevant precautions taken, such as advising them to speak with their parents, and/or a responsible adult as well as future advice regarding contraception etc. Not least a pharmacist needs to ensure that if the woman is under-age that she is not in an abusive situation. In the same way that retailers now ask routinely for proof of age for anyone buying alcohol who looks under the age of 25, this is only the Pharmacist doing her job. FOR YOUR PROTECTION. 

Maybe the person at the counter did not approve of contraception, maybe they thought I was someone who had not used any contraception. Maybe they were just doing their job?

I will never know. I will, however, always remember the cold and disbelieving look upon their face as they asked me whether I had ever used emergency contraception and my age. Drama-rama!! Cold, disbelieving look. Pur-lease. Aspiring Independent columnist perhaps?

It was only when I asked with bright eyes, (having visions of Watership Down here) flushed face and controlled-annoyed voice whether they would need to see my licence ID in proof that they with shame? embarrassment? abruptly ended the interview and gave me what I wanted. I can’t even remember if I paid for it or not, I wanted to leave that shop as fast as I could.Why did I not complain? Because I was relieved to receive the emergency birth-control. Because it was an uncomfortable encounter.

Here’s the nub. Women want to have their cake and eat it too. The freedom to have sex with whomever you want, whenever you want and not get pregnant, aside from being physically non-existent, carries with it certain responsibilities. The morning-after pill is supposed to be for total emergencies, it is a high-dose of artificial hormones which can in some women cause nasty side effects, not to mention an early abortion. If you are using the morning-after pill, it is an indication that something has gone wrong. Those dispensing it have a duty to look after your health. They also have a right to refuse to dispense if they do not feel it is appropriate, as well as a right to exercise their conscience, whether that’s based on religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Being an adult means that one has to accept that not every person in the world is going to condone or agree with your beliefs. Granted they should not abuse you on the basis of them, but tolerance should not have to entail being forced to commit an act that one believes to be intrinsically wrong.

The women relating their experiences, may well have been responsible women in steady or committed relationships, no-one is judging their sexual morality, but looking after their health. It’s funny. Women are prepared to get down, get naked and exchange bodily fluids with a man with whom they are not prepared to have a baby, yet all of a sudden go all coy when someone entrusted with dispensing health care, asks them generic, non-intimate pertinent questions to ensure that they get the best possible treatment.

Time for some feminists to grow up.

Think I’ll pass on the stuffing

You have to hand it to BPAS. My abhorrence at their latest campaign, cheekily entitled “Santa Comes” is intermingled with jaw-dropping admiration for a very slick PR job, very well done.

It seems that BPAS are so concerned by the seasonal spike in unplanned pregnancies, that they are providing a new service which enables women to obtain stockpiles of the morning-after pill in advance of the Christmas festivities, in case of an unforeseen instance of unprotected sex.

Given BPAS’ concern for the needs of women and the awareness that perhaps more women than usual might need to obtain access to emergency contraception, one might think that a charity who claim to have the best interests of women at heart, would open emergency clinics over Christmas. As a charity who are mindful of their costs, after all opening on Boxing Day would entail double-time payments and the cancelling of annual paid leave, the handing out the pill in advance is obviously an infinitely more cost-effective and practical notion.

As BPAS admit, it is more than likely that underage teenage girls will be able to access advance supplies of the morning-after pill, but well teens will be teens won’t they? It’s probably very unlikely that any girls will be coerced into ringing up or that anyone sexually exploiting teen girls will misuse the service isn’t it? No teen will contemplate passing it onto a friend or selling it will they?Parents have absolutely no right to know whether or not their children might be contemplating engaging in un-protected sex, let alone whether or not they are taking huge doses of a synthetic hormone. Parents don’t really have any need to know what might be going on, enough information is given so that the responsible young teen engaging in unplanned sex will know that if she is sick within two hours she might need another dose and that if she has a persistent pain in her lower abdomen, she will need to consult a doctor as Levonelle (the morning after pill) does nothing to prevent ectopic pregnancy.

It’s not at all irresponsible to suggest that unsafe or unforseen sexual encounters are all part of the Christmas tradition and that people will be unable to resist the lure of a quick tumble with a relative stranger after one avocat too many. Forgetting to use a condom goes hand in hand with a drunken rendition of Fairy Tale of New York does it not?

Still let’s not be too condemnatory, BPAS do chuck in some free condoms just to prick the conscience and to provide justification for their handing out of emergency contraception, which when it was introduced was intended only ever to be administered on prescription in exceptional circumstances.

Considering the evidence that the morning after pill does not have an impact upon unplanned pregnancy rates, in the words of Dr Caroline Scherf, a consultant in sexual and reproductive health with the Cardiff and Vale University Health board

the pill as emergency contraception is preferable as opposed to nothing after unprotected sex, but there is still a very high chance that they will end up pregnant

it is surely ungracious and cynical to suggest that this is merely a ploy to surreptitiously increase their customer base?

This scheme does not discourage irresponsible sex, it positively sanctions it. According to the doublethink of BPAS, planning for irresponsible sex is the height of responsibility.

Of course, compassionate souls that they are, BPAS wouldn’t dream of encouraging yet more sexual encounters that might lead to more demand for abortions now would they? After all, there is no possibility that more drunken or spontaneous sex, safe in the knowledge that there’s always a back-up, will lead to more unplanned pregnancies or STIs now is there?

And who will be the first port of call when the emergency contraception or even the free condom fails? BPAS, those caring people who gave me the free contraception in the first place. Stunning piece of marketing and indeed PR. Even if it transpires that there are no spikes in STIs or unplanned pregnancies over the Christmas period, (I hope someone monitors this)even if our young responsible girl (the advert is clearly aimed at a certain demographic) resists the lure of a quick pash on the tinsel bedecked photocopier, or her contraception works, well she’s still got the pill for another time. Together with a heightened brand awareness of BPAS. You have to hand it to them, this campaign gets their name all over the media, in the same way as Benetton’s Pope stunt; it wins the praise of pro-choicers and professional copulationists sex education advocates whereas anyone with half an ounce of sense will shake their head in despair. The scheme vastly increases awareness of BPAS in the teenage market with carefully targeted, fun and festive advertisements featuring in teen magazines and young adult glossies.

Santa’s coming, how witty, how risqué, what a clever and sophisticated double-entendre. I can think of a much more responsible slogan in a similar vein.

“Say no to the stuffing”.