Saskatchewan’s stance on emergency contraceptive comes under fire

By Greg Higgins
May 5, 2017 - 2:00pm

A Saskatchewan-only screening process for the morning after pill is being called a violation of privacy and is now putting the province's emergency contraceptive requirements into question.

Andrea Dawn* visited Saskatchewan on vacation from Ontario recently and went to a local pharmacy to get some emergency contraceptive, or what is commonly called the ‘morning after pill.’

“I was taken back when the pharmacist told me that I had to have a consultation and go through a screening process before I could purchase it,” Dawn said.

The morning after pill is emergency contraceptive (EC) that women can take after having unprotected sex to terminate a potential pregnancy. In Saskatchewan, they are required to have a consultation with a pharmacist and be put through a screening process. The pharmacist will then determine if they will deny them the pill or not.

In Saskatchewan, the EC is considered a Schedule 2 Drug, which means there must be a screening process in order to obtain it. In every other province (except Quebec) it is a Schedule 3 Drug, which means it can be purchased over the counter by anyone.

There are people who believe Saskatchewan is infringing on women’s rights with the screening process.

“It’s a violation of women’s privacy,” Lesley Biggs a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Saskatchewan said. “They have to reveal very personal and intimate information about their lives and to be honest, it’s nobody’s business.”

Some of the questions asked during the screening are when the last time the women has had unprotected sex and how many times since her last menstrual period. You can see an example of the screening sheet here.

“One of the main principals of the women’s health movement of the 1960’s was in order for women to make free choices they have to be able to control their bodies,” Biggs said. “It’s their decision and no one else’s. I would have thought that those battles were over, but here it comes back again.”

Biggs also believes the process can cause anxiety due to the prolonged delay of the screening process. “What happens if you’re denied and don’t get the pill at the right time? Women need to have the right to choose what to do with their own body without having a third party screening them.”

Having to sit down and have a consultation may deter women from wanting to buy the pill, according to Biggs. “What is it that they want to find out from this screening process?” Biggs said. “Essentially it becomes a mechanism of control.”

According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, it does not cover the drug so instead it is regulated by the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacy Professionals. According to the registrar of the college, Ray Goubert, the screening process is done to make sure the woman buying the pill knows exactly what she is buying and has all the information about how to use it and the potential side effects of the drug. The pharmacist also needs to know how long since the patient has had sex because the EC will only work within 72 hours of a potential pregnancy. 

“We need to make sure it is a necessary medication and it [the screening process] is not intended to intimidate anybody,” Goubert said. “We aren’t trying to infringe on privacy rights as all the woman’s information is kept confidential. It is a public benefit though, so we have to make sure we do our part.”

Goubert added the screening process is still under review within a bigger package of the roles of pharmacist in family planning. The registrar added a decision on the pharmacist's role on family planning could be made as early as this summer or early fall.

In addition to the screening however, men are not able to purchase EC in Saskatchewan without the woman it is for going through the screening process. “One of the main challenges we face are for men to be equally responsible for protective sex.” Biggs said. “So by making it a women’s only issue, you’re reinforcing the issue that men are not equally responsible.”

“I understand we are a conservative province, but it’s time to get with the 21st century” said Biggs.

“I went to get it just before my flight and I just decided to wait to go back home to Ontario and get it there because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of the consultation and didn’t want to reveal any intimate information... screw that.” Dawn said.  

* Name changed to protect privacy.


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On Twitter: @realgreghiggins

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