Morning-after pill still in doubt

A possible reduction in abortions when the emergency contraceptive pill was widely made free has failed to convince health planners that the scheme should be made permanent.

In a $300,000 trial, the Auckland District Health Board paid for pharmacies to make the Levonelle 1 pill available at no charge for five months until March last year. The free pills were given to more than 8000 patients, including 26 girls aged between 10 and 14.

The pill can cost patients more than $30 at pharmacies. It can be obtained for free or at low cost by many patients, especially younger ones, under a range of State funding schemes although there are variations between DHBs.

Preliminary evaluation of the Auckland DHB scheme last year found a 13 per cent reduction in the number of abortions at the board’s Epsom Day Unit, the region’s main abortion clinic.  However, the full analysis has now concluded that while there was a “downward trend in terminations” the changes were not big enough to be considered statistically significant.

Board officials urged the community and public health advisory committee to support making the pill free permanently.  But the chief planning and funding officer, Denis Jury, said yesterday the board would instead “consider a range of options to address the broader issue of teenage pregnancies”.

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