Japan has embarked on a trial initiative starting November 28 aimed at the over-the-counter sale of "morning-after" contraceptive pills. However, critics have denounced the project's limited scope, advocating for a complete removal of restrictions on access.
For years, advocacy groups have decried the stringent regulations in socially conservative Japan, where emergency contraceptives were solely obtainable with a doctor's prescription, necessitating a visit to a clinic or pharmacy. This requirement dissuaded many women, particularly rape survivors and teenage girls, according to campaigners.
The pilot program, operating across 145 pharmacies, allows the pill to be acquired without a prescription. Nevertheless, individuals are still obliged to present identification and take the medication in the presence of a pharmacist, as stated on the Japan Pharmaceutical Association's website.
The minimum age for purchasing the over-the-counter pill is 16, although those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The price range was fixed between 7,000 and 9,000 yen.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the trial, the Emergency Contraceptives at Pharmacies Project campaign group emphasized the program's limitations. "The selection of pharmacies was very restricted. The pill's availability is confined to only 145 drugstores, accounting for a mere 0.2% of the country's total 60,000 pharmacies," remarked Asuka Someya, co-chair of the organization, during a press briefing.
Someya further highlighted concerns regarding the requirement for parental consent, citing the substantial barriers it poses for minors.
"We have once more urged the Health Ministry to swiftly and completely make the pill accessible in pharmacies without any constraints," added Someya.
The commencement of this pilot initiative comes in the wake of an overwhelmingly positive response during a Health Ministry public consultation earlier this year, where 97% of the 46,000 respondents voiced their support.
The World Health Organization, advocating for the routine inclusion of emergency contraception in national family planning programs, highlights its importance on its official website.