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Losing Control: Contraceptive Pill Shortages in the UK

Finding a suitable contraception that harmonises with our bodies and minds has very rarely proved to be an easy task. So when we, as people who menstruate, feel comfortable with a particular type of contraception, it can be difficult when you are told that it is no longer accessible to you. Recently, the UK has suffered from a shortage of contraception and the most prescribed form, the pill, is becoming less and less accessible by the day.

In 1961, the contraceptive pill was made available to married women in Britain for a price , before becoming free to all in 1974. This represented a triumph for the women’s rights movement and symbolised that people who menstruate had acquired more sexual autonomy and liberation. This major achievement for feminism assisted in vastly reducing unwanted pregnancies, which also increased the opportunities for women with regard to their careers and education.

With frequent developments over the past decades, the contraceptive pill has been accessible in the forms of ‘progesterone only’ and the ‘combined’, with multiple brands being available at GP clinics, sexual health clinics, or, as of very recently, over the counter in pharmacies.

We are lucky that in the UK, contraception, such as the pill, has been so easily accessible to us… until recently. A month ago, I was told my brand of contraception was no longer being imported into the UK. Millions of people in the UK rely on the contraceptive pill as birth control, to prevent acne, control endometriosis or to reduce menstrual cramps. Simply changing the brand of the particular pill can vary the many side effects massively.

As many people who menstruate can relate, it can be extremely difficult to find a form of contraception that both your body and your mental health approve of. When I was 16, I was prescribed the combined pill, Rigevidon. My body agreed with this brand of combined pill, however, it took a huge toll on my mental health. As a result of this, I changed my contraception to the progesterone only pill, in hopes that supplying my body with progesterone only, instead of progesterone and oestrogen, would improve my health mentally. Despite the adaptation, this time it was my body that didn’t react well.

My GP suggested changing brands of pill, as each brand contains different active ingredients that can influence your physical or mental health differently. The efficiency will be the same, but you just may well suffer varying side effects. A year and a half later, I am finally physically and mentally comfortable with the progesterone only pill, Noriday. So it is very unfortunate that I will no longer have access to this pill, forcing my body to comply with another form of contraception.

As someone who menstruates, filling our bodies with extra hormones is already difficult enough. But, being given no other option other than forcing our bodies to conform to contrasting hormones and ingredients is disappointing. Whilst the UK is generally considered to be relatively progressive when it comes to equality of the sexes (though there is still a long way to go), this restriction of contraception is a bump in the road. Unfortunately, it is a problem that cannot easily be resolved, but it is an issue that is not being recognised.

Women’s health is constantly being ignored within society. GPs have, on occasion, been accused of patronising women, particularly in reference to illnesses like endometriosis, claiming their pain is exaggerated and, therefore, not allowing them to seek further advice or to gain a diagnosis. Even society contributes to the perception that people who mensturate do not struggle physically or mentally from certain illnesses.

On the other hand, it can sometimes be a double edged sword. When women seek treatment for issues such as endometriosis, the common result of the GP appointment is to be hastily prescribed the pill because it is known to, sometimes, calm down menstrual cramps. However, many people are uneducated when it comes to side effects of the pill and how much it can influence your body. Due to the lack of understanding surrounding the side effects of contraception, there is a lack of awareness of the implications of the shortage of contraception in the UK.

The root cause of the pill shortages is unknown. There have been claims that Brexit is the origin, or, sources, such as The Guardian, suggest that it is due to underfunding.

The possibility that underfunding could be the reason highlights that society does not take women’s health as seriously as they should. This can be due to the patriarchy or the underrepresentation of women in drug trials, illustrating the gender bias within healthcare.

I am also aware that I am speaking from a fairly privileged stance; as women in the UK, we are very fortunate to have free contraceptive options available, since many other countries aren’t so fortunate. However, the lack of choice of contraception in the UK is increasing and can lead to further issues, such as less safe sex or painful menstrual cycles, for example.

The concern of the shortage has been raised in an open letter from many signatories, warning MPs of the shortages and the effects that it might have on people who menstruate in the UK. What you can do is read these open letters, sign petitions and raise your voice.


Words by Holly Phillips

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