How A Trial Offering Contraception Education To Women In Pharmacies Could Actually Be Useful

A pharmacy trial that would see women offered counselling about birth control methods after purchasing the ‘morning-after’ pill has been misconstrued online as a ‘pro-life’ campaign.


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A pharmacy trial that would see women offered counselling about birth control methods after purchasing the morning after pill has been misconstrued online as a pro-life campaign — but researchers are arguing the process could be valuable to women.

What Do We Need To Know About The ALLIANCE Trial?

The trial, known as the ALLIANCE trial, has been designed to expand the scope of what pharmacists can offer in terms of women’s health and is being rolled out across 21 pharmacies in NSW and Victoria.

It’s been designed by researchers at Monash University and the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health (SPHERE).

The idea is to specially train pharmacists to provide women with the option to receive evidence-based information about all of their contraceptive options in a private consulting room.

The offer for these sessions will be given to women who are purchasing emergency contraception (the morning after pill) or filling a medical abortion prescription.

Women will be able to receive information about contraceptive pills and IUDs and the pharmacists will then be able to refer customers onto GPs or other local medical services where they can obtain a prescription.

How Was The Trial Reported In The Media?

This past Saturday, the Daily Telegraph published an article about the trial titled ‘Talk Before Birth Control’, with the first line of the article reading that pharmacists “would offer private birth control counselling to young women who turn up wanting the emergency contraceptive pill or early medical abortion as part of an Australian-first trial to reduce accidental pregnancies”.

This article, understandably, led to some outrage online that the trial was trying to intervene unnecessarily in women’s health practices.

Victoria’s minister for women, Gabrielle Williams posted a fairly damning Tweet of the project based on the Telegraph article over the weekend that it “pushes a not-so-subtle pro-life agenda.”

What’s The Value In A Trial Like This?

One of the lead researchers behind the trial from Monash University and director of SPHERE, Professor Danielle Mazza, wrote an essay for Monash University’s newsroom outlining the actual intentions of the trial.

Mazza said that one third of Australian women experience an unintended pregnancy in their lifetime and those rates are higher among people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or living outside of major cities.

“What this means is that, some five decades after the contraceptive pill was first developed, we remain woefully poor in ensuring women have access to contraception that suits them,” Mazza said.

While pharmacies have been involved in successful public health initiatives in the past for things like smoking cessation, diabetes, and cardiovascular care, the ALLIANCE trial is investigating whether or not that resource can be used for women’s health.

“The ALLIANCE trial will look at ways to use this untapped resource to ensure Australian women everywhere know what is available to assist them in preventing unwanted pregnancy,” Mazza wrote.

While Williams later clarified her position on the trial and stated that it was “a good thing”, the minister did express concerns that the trial could have the unintended consequences of making women feel more judged and ashamed when seeking contraceptives in the future.

However, Mazza outlined in her Monash University piece that the team recognises the process of buying emergency contraceptives can be stressful and the trial is going to use different methods of offering the services to women, such as providing them with written information or simply informing them through signs in the pharmacy.