The contraceptive pill has changed the lives of millions of women since its arrival on the NHS in 1961- notably for married women only. Since 1967, all women, married or single, have had the option of taking the pill, and having autonomy of their own bodies.
But for many, asking the GP for a prescription of the pill is a long and uncomfortable process of blood pressure and weight checks, intrusive questions, and shame. While the NHS does its best to make the process feel as simple and dignified as possible, all too often women are put off by well-intentioned questions like “would you like any free condoms or a chlamydia test?”
Women deserve to be able to access contraception as easily as men can. Condoms are available at every supermarket, corner shop, and even most public toilets. They are also available free from sexual health clinics and doctors’ surgeries with no questions asked.
So why are things so different for women? Any Rigevidon users will be able to tell you that the pamphlet of risks associated with the pill is huge, ranging from abdominal pain to blood clots. The checks that the GP goes through before they can dispense the pill are there for a reason and are very much necessary. While having a tight band around your arm for a minute is uncomfortable, it’s a lot more pleasant than a stroke or heart attack.
The progesterone-only pill has become the first pill available without a prescription in the UK. The affectionately called “mini-pill” doesn’t contain oestrogen and is the recommended pill for women over 35, as well as those who have a medical condition such as migraines.
Lovima, a brand of progesterone-only pill, is now available from Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots following an online consultation of a few questions. This is a game changing advancement in female reproductive health. Not only does the introduction of Lovima increase the accessibility of birth control for women, but it will also take the pressure off the already struggling NHS.
However, the progesterone-only pill does come with a vast list of possible side effects. Ovarian cysts, hair loss, breast leakage, and vaginal infections are all possible consequences of this type of contraceptive. Similarly, instead of being a free service, customers will have to pay £14.99 for 28 days of contraception. This makes the product inaccessible for those on a low income- or those who don’t want to pay £15 a month for the privilege of irregular periods, headaches, or decreased sex drive!
So, should the pill be available off prescription? The answer is yes. I will always support initiatives that seek to make life easier for women. However, women should not have to choose between paying for birth control or feeling ashamed by speaking to the GP. De-stigmatisation starts when we have open conversations about female health.
“A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.”