Australia’s drugs regulator has upheld its interim decision to block contraceptive pills being sold at chemists without a prescription.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) was considering allowing the pill to be sold in some circumstances where a menstruating person could prove they had been prescribed the same pill within the last two years.

It received two private applications to amend legislation around a couple of the pill’s key ingredients so that it would no longer require ongoing prescriptions from a doctor, only a prior history.

The applicants argued that low-dose oral contraceptives containing levonorgestrel or norethisterone, in combination with ethinylestradiol, have been safe to use since they were introduced in the 1960s.

They said that if the person had already safely taken the pills within the last two years, it would be safe for them to continue to do so without needing to go to the doctor every three months to get a new piece of paper.

But the TGA concluded the risks outweighed the benefits. It cited weight gain, emotional anxiety, heavy bleeding and thromboembolism as “significant adverse effects that are not consistent with over the counter medicines”. Funny that. Meanwhile where are our proven-safe male contraceptives?

The TGA had already made an interim decision to reject the application but had called for more submissions.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia submitted in support of the proposal, saying there would be public health benefits to easier pill access.

“This option to obtain ongoing supply of selected oral contraceptives can increase opportunity for women to take responsible actions in self-managing sexual and reproductive health,” the submission said.

It also said that better accessibility would lead to better, more consistent use of the pill as people would be less likely to stop and start the treatment.

The unnamed author of the final decision wrote that regular appointments with GPs were essential for both safety and helping people monitor and review their contraceptive options.

It also wrote that pharmacists could not give this kind of advice. But apparently the federal government thinks they pharmacists can “counsel” people out of taking the morning after pill.

“I consider that while the proposed changes would address some barriers affecting access to ongoing supply of oral contraceptives, I do not feel the benefits of supply from a pharmacist outweigh the risks to women’s health when supplied without consultation from a medical practitioner,” the TGA spokesperson said.

Image: Getty Images / Annette Riedl