What is the Morning-after Pill and why we need to talk about it

On October 9, the Japanese health department announced that the morning-after pill (緊急避妊薬 orアフターピル) can be bought over the counter from 2021. The morning-after pill (or Plan B) is essentially an emergency pill to be taken by a woman who had unprotected sex in the last 72 hours, and wants to ensure that they are not pregnant. As of now, the pill known as NorLevo (levonorgestrel) can only be purchased with a prescription. Although it is great and relieving for women living in Japan, there are still a lot of negative and problematic views on this change.

Kinoshita Katsuyuki (木下勝之), a senior official of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said that 「どんな時も薬局で買えるようにするのはおかしい」which translates to: “it is strange to be allowed to buy (the morning-after pill) directly from pharmacies at any time”. According to him, this will only promote irresponsibility among women. Additionally, Kinoshita also claimed that buying the pill from a pharmacy is not necessary when the individuals who need it can directly go to the doctors and request for it.

Now, this is problematic.

Women have the right to defend their reproductive health rights and don’t need anyone to tell them whether or not they should purchase the pill or not. It’s even more difficult if you are a victim of rape and/or other forms of sexual violence if you can’t have immediate access to these pills. Not only that, unwanted pregnancies are also possible even with consensual sex.

What is more saddening is that not many people understand the significance behind this topic. Japan’s knowledge of sex education is insufficient. Many Japanese people don’t know enough about sex-ed, which may be the reason why there are misunderstandings and uncomfortableness around topics such as birth control, menstruation, sexual abuse, and so on. The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology needs to further stress and improve sex-ed in schools for the youth to acknowledge and comprehend the significance behind sex education and reproductive health rights.

Another problematic aspect of what the senior official said was “women will be more irresponsible”. Now, it takes a man and a woman to get pregnant—and we all know this. Not only did his claim seem to belittle women, it also gives a sense of relief to men as they will think, “it’s not my fault she got pregnant, she was irresponsible.” No, absolutely not.  

There has been a recent argument all over social media platforms that birth control needs to be emphasized more on men. Theoretically speaking, a woman can only get pregnant once in a year, whereas a man can impregnate a woman for 365 days. Women have taken on the burden of hormonal birth control by experiencing adverse side effects such headaches, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, breast pain, fatigue, etc. Does it not make sense that men should also take part in preventing unwanted pregnancies? Yes, condoms and vasectomies are an option—but many make it a point to  complain about how it “diminishes the pleasure” or are afraid of the pain afterwards. But again, it takes both a female and a male to get pregnant, and both have to take an equal amount of responsibilities—and yes, this includes contraceptives.