For over a decade since the Tamil Nadu government imposed a moral ban on Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs), many have voiced out their protest asking the government to revoke its decision.
Recently, an online petition was started by Jhatkaa.org, a Bengaluru based organization, asking the Tamil Nadu Director of Drugs Control, S Abdul Khader, to lift the ban on ECPs stating that the ban was not based on any legal grounds. The petition has got over 1,500 signatures.
A blog by author Vaishnavi Sundar also went viral recently. It was her blog that gave way to the petition. She wrote, "In a country where rape is rampant and child marriage is still being practiced, providing ECPs is the least a government can do to protect a woman’s choice and dignity." Vaishnavi plans on taking the peition forward in Tamil Nadu.
In 2002, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare made ECPs available. And in what was considered a major step forward for the reproductive rights of women, levonorgestrel- ECPs were made over-the-counter drugs in 2005.
However, in 2006, the then Tamil Nadu government’s drug controller, N.Selvaraju, imposed a ban on ECPs, following objections from the Chennai-based Responsible Parents Forum and Satvika Samuga Sevakar Sangam.
N.Selvaraju stated that the ban was important since ECPs would encourage women to think that they could do “anything” and get away without a pregnancy.
Stocks worth lakhs were seized from pharmacies in the country’s health capital, Chennai, in September that year. The contention was that the drug induces abortion and that it is not a contraceptive, and hence sale without prescription would be illegal.
This is even after India legalised abortion up to 20 weeks for reasons including contraception failure.
Vaishnavi told The News Minute: “Many studies have proven that Viagra also has side effects, but the varieties of the drug are sold over the counter. The government is clearly discriminating. It is not going to be very difficult for the state government to come up with visual instruction and programmes educating women on the usage of ECP."
The petition says that the ban not only showed the complete lack of understanding of women’s health, but a strong desire to control women and the choices they make with their bodies.
An Economic Times report quotes Abdul Khader saying, "These pills contain levonorgestrel, a hormone used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. While the strength of the over-the-counter product was fixed at 0.1mg, the products in the market were above 0.75mg. We wanted them relabelled as prescription or Schedule H drugs and disallowed their sale as over-the-counter drugs.”
Medical experts’ opinions are divided on this issue. While some say that continuous usage of the levonorgestrel-based ECP might have an adverse effect on health, others says that the OTC sale of the pills will help prevent unwanted pregnancies, especially among victims of marital rape.