You will be hard-pressed to find emergency contraceptive pills at any pharmacy in the city.
After visiting at least eight pharmacies and calling a few others across the city, only two said they had stocks of the pills, also known as ‘morning after’ pills. And, only one medical shop was willing to sell a pack containing a ‘Levonorgestrel’ tablet for ₹70 without a prescription.
Most pharmacists said they have stopped keeping emergency contraceptive pills, while a few of them said such pills were banned in the State. One staff member said an order could be placed if a prescription was produced.
A pharmacist, on condition of anonymity, said that a few months ago, the Drugs Control Department advised pharmacies to restrict sale of emergency contraceptive pills. “Earlier, a few pharmacies sold these pills OTC (over the counter). Now, a proper prescription from doctors is a must and this is under strict vigil,” he said. Pharmacies attached to clinics of gynaecologists or those attached to hospitals sell the pills, he added.
Last week, a tweet created ripples as it mentioned that “Chennai has an unofficial ban on emergency contraceptives since 2006”. The Twitter handle @srivatsan_q pointed out that finding contraceptives was incredibly difficult, with most women needing to identify just one store in the entire city which has it, and runs out within a couple of hours in the morning. Pharmacies in Chennai claim to perpetually not have stock or not have supply of such pills.
In 2016, founder of Women Making Films, Vaishnavi Sundar, conducted a campaign along with Jhatkaa, a campaign organisation, to make the pills available in the State. “Things like this would not get implemented unless there is pressure from the Drugs Control Department. The department does not even consider gynaecological needs of women as a prime subject of concern. I feared that it was a farcical ban back when I ran the campaign,” she observed.
Doctors pointed out that the pills have been a bone of contention for some years in Tamil Nadu.
T.K. Shaanthy Gunasingh, president of the Obstetric and Gynaecological Society of Southern India, said that emergency contraceptive pills were not ‘abortifacient’ and act only by interfering with ovulation.
Jaishree Gajaraj, senior consultant, MANGAI Women’s Health Exclusive, explained that emergency contraception relies on the possibility of the medication making the endometrium hostile. “They are only emergency contraceptives and should be used as such only. Although it may sound logical that it should be available OTC, I feel that there should be some form of supervision and accountability,” she said.
Officials of the Tamil Nadu Drugs Control Administration clarified that there is no ban or restriction on the sale of emergency contraceptive pills. A senior official said that the advisory was for abortion pills, and there seems to be a misunderstanding among pharmacists on contraceptive pills and abortion pills. “A few compositions including Levonorgestrel are covered under Schedule ‘K’ of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 1945, and are exempted from sale licenses,” he said.