Hungarian Government Obstructs Access to Morning-After Pill

Three Hungarian NGOs are seeking answers from the state health authority after it decided against granting over-the-counter access to a morning-after pill out of concern for women's health.

The Hungarian Women's Lobby, PATENT Association and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union have sent an open letter to the State Secretariat for Healthcare, questioning its determination that making the ellaOne morning-after pill available without a prescription would harm women.

Although the European Medicines Agency and the European Commission have voiced their support for making the ellaOne pill available without prescription, the recent announcement by the Hungarian Ministry of Human Resources makes clear that the pill will remain a prescription-only medicine due to concerns related to "patient safety."

EllaOne is a morning-after pill that may be effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies for up to 120 hours (5 days) after intercourse. It is important to point out, however, that best results occur when it is taken within the first 24 hours. Understandably, effectiveness is best ensured by making the pill readily available.

The patient safety hazard referenced in the ministerial communiqué was refuted in the course of the European licensing procedure as a necessary step for approval. The pill was licensed by the EU in 2009 and can be safely used without a prescription, with its benefits and risks having been widely publicized since it came to market.

It is worth considering how to best ensure women's health, safety and the promotion of their potential future pregnancy: by an emergency pill taken in a timely manner, or, in its absence or as a consequence of its delayed effect, by the artificial termination of an unwanted pregnancy?

Finally, the NGOs remind the government of a 2013 recommendation by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that Hungary "ensure appropriate accessibility to family planning services and affordable contraceptive methods, including emergency contraceptive products, for all women [...] and eliminate the prescription-only accessibility of emergency contraceptives."

The three organizations condemn the decision of the Hungarian government. The pill can be accessed without a prescription in 22 of 28 EU member states. Following the recommendation of the Commission, even Poland, which has very strict abortion laws, announced that it would remove the need for prescription. It seems Hungary is again swimming against the current, and putting the safety and health of Hungarian women at risk.