In another surprising development, the Suga administration has announced that they will consider making emergency contraceptives, i.e. the morning-after pill or Norlevo/Plan B, available for over-the-counter purchase in Japan, no prescription required.
This is welcome news for many people, especially women, since the pill needs to be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex and/or failed birth control in order to be effective. Finding an OB-GYN who is available to give a prescription for Plan B can prove difficult as it can depend on their clinic hours or cost. Not only are emergency contraceptives not covered by national health insurance, but they are expensive, with one pill costing up to 10,000 yen.
Public interest in the accessibility of Plan B has increased, with members of the Citizens’ Project (Shumin purojekuto) submitting a 100,000-signature petition to the Japanese government. However, the government remains wary. Kimura Tadashi, president of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, had this to say when asked by Huffington Post Japan on the matter during a general press conference on December 12th:
薬局で買えるような成熟した社会になればいいなと思っています。しかしその状況になっているかというと、かなりいろんな条件が成熟していないのではないかと懸念するところ.-Kimura Tadashi, president of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology
I’d like to think that we as a society are mature enough to handle the over-the-counter purchase of Plan B, but in reality, we’re not quite there yet.
Kimura then went on to express his concerns for illegal usage of Plan B, despite a black market already existing on the Internet. However, while the current market exists out of necessity, Kimura claimed that eased access might lead to women using it excessively, adding that emergency contraceptives are not 100% effective.
On the other hand, Tohmi Sakiko, an OB-GYN who is the co-leader of the Citizens’ Project to Realize the Acquisition of Emergency Contraceptives at Pharmacies, says that the ease of access is crucial to women’s health, especially when it comes to matters of unplanned pregnancies and sexual violence:
意図しない妊娠は女性の人生や健康に大きな影響を及ぼし、なかには児童虐待につながるケースもあります。意図しない妊娠を防ぐことの重要性を多くの産婦人科医は現場で実感しているはずです。日頃の避妊法や性教育を充実させることはもちろん大切ですが、万が一は誰にでも起こる可能性があります。-Dr. Tohmi Sakiko
Unplanned pregnancies can have a significant impact on a woman’s life and health, and can potentially lead to child abuse. Many OB-GYNs should realize the importance of preventing unplanned pregnancies while practicing medicine. While it’s important to use daily contraceptives and promote sex education, this is a matter of public health.
News of Plan B being potentially available over-the-counter spread throughout Japanese Twitter. Here are a few notable responses:
If you go to the hospital after being sexually assaulted, there may not be a doctor available, so I think it’d be nice to be able to buy [Plan B] at a pharmacy. They become less effective the longer you wait to take it. I wonder if you’d only be able to buy it from a dispensary, or if you’d have to fill out a form beforehand.
It’d be cool to buy it at a pharmacy, or even better, at a convenience store. It’d also be cheaper. If you can’t buy it in a pinch, then it’s practically useless.
One time when I went to an OB-GYN clinic, I overheard the receptionist asking their colleagues ‘What is she doing here?!’ I was embarrassed because I was young at the time. Because of this, I’d be more than thrilled to be able to buy Plan B over the counter. To be honest, it’s hard to receive gynecological treatment here–unless you’re pregnant, they give you the cold shoulder.
Emergency contraceptives are currently available in 90 countries without prescription. Only time will tell if Japan will join that list as well.