In early January, the European Commission approved the over-the-counter sale of the emergency contraceptive ellaOne (ulipristal acetate). As a result, 120 million women in the European Union should now have access to ellaOne without the expense or delay of a medical appointment and prescription.
Unfortunately, it's not a given that every country will implement the European Commission’s decision to help ensure that a woman’s rights to health, life, and privacy are respected. Hungary, for example, has decided its women should be left out.
The government in Budapest announced on January 16 that it will continue to require prescriptions for emergency contraception.
This is problematic because emergency contraception must be taken quickly to be effective. ellaOne stops unintended pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation, and it works best if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex. Despite widespread use of regular contraceptives, 45 percent of all pregnancies in Europe are unplanned, so reducing the barriers to a safe and effective means of contraception is a big deal.
Hungary’s refusal to allow over-the-counter access to ellaOne despite the European Commission’s decision means that women must see a doctor to procure emergency contraception, including in cases of sexual assault, which may delay or even prevent them from doing so. The Hungarian government’s stance is only the latest in a worrying trend: since 2010, the ruling Fidesz party has shown a general disregard for human rights, including reproductive rights.
In 2013, the UN expert body on women’s rights (known as the CEDAW Committee) specifically urged Hungary to eliminate the prescription requirement for emergency contraception. In opting to maintain restrictions on access to ellaOne, Hungary is failing to ensure respect for women’s rights to health, life, and privacy.
Hungary should abide by the European Commission decision and allow the sale of emergency contraception without a prescription, not only to follow European and CEDAW recommendations but to fulfil its international human rights obligations.
Women across the EU stand to benefit from the Commission’s authorization of over-the-counter access to safe emergency contraception. Hungarian women deserve this, too.