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Morning-after pill to be freely available

KFDA decision sparks Catholic protests, mixed reactions among doctors

Activists protest the government's approval of morning-after pills for OTC sale Activists protest the government's approval of morning-after pills for OTC sale
  • Korea
  • June 8, 2012
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The Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) announced yesterday that morning-after pills will become available without a prescription.

Public hearings will be held next month, and the new rules are expected to go into effect by the end of the year. Currently, the pills are prescription-only.

The decision came after a year-long reclassification project of all medicines sold in Korea. A total of 212 types will be switched from prescription to over-the-counter, while 273 will become available only by prescription, including birth control pills.

“Birth control pills have side effects such as thrombosis and also affect hormone levels,” the KFDA said in a statement. The same is not true of emergency contraception, it said.

Morning-after pills – also known as emergency contraception – act by either delaying or preventing ovulation, blocking fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

The clinic also notes that recent evidence suggests at least two of the major brand names do not inhibit implantation, but Catholic groups disagree.

“Emergency contraception pills are in fact an abortive medicine killing life,” the Korean bishops’ conference said yesterday.

Earlier this week, the Cheongju diocesan Committee for Life held a protest in front of the KFDA headquarters. After the decision was announced, committee president Father John Lee Jun-yeon said they would cooperate with other religious and civic groups to prepare for hearings.

Medical groups in the country were split. The Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the pills could encourage “irresponsible sex, especially among teenagers,” and argued that the pills should be taken under medical doctors’ supervision, while the Korean Pharmaceutical Association welcomed the deregulation, saying it would decrease the number of illegal abortions.

According to the government, 342,000 abortions were performed in 2005, but the number dropped to just 169,000 in 2010.

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