Chilean Health Minister Maria Soledad Barria earlier this month announced that the government will distribute Barr Laboratories’ emergency contraceptive Plan B - which can prevent pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse - in public clinics to girls ages 14 and older at no cost and without parental consent, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
Plan B since 2001 has been available in pharmacies in Chile by prescription, and it also has been available to teenagers with parental consent.
However, Plan B - which costs about $20 in the country - has only been accessible to the middle and upper classes, some people say.
According to the Monitor, the government initially planned to announce the “universal distribution” of the pill last year but delayed the announcement after a “flurry of public protest” and the beginning of a presidential election.
The government recently lowered the age limit for Plan B in light of changes to Chilean law - which include lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 14 and lowering the age of sexual consent to 14 - and in response to recent statistics.
According to the National Institute for Youth, 14% of Chilean girls become pregnant by age 14; 28% of Chilean teenage girls engage in sexual activity by age 14; and about 40,000 infants are born to girls ages 19 and younger annually, the Monitor reports.
In response to the government’s new age limit, the Roman Catholic Church - which is opposed to the use of EC - at the Chilean Episcopal Conference last week in a statement said that the restrictions are “reminiscent of public policies established in totalitarian regimes by which the state aimed to regulate the intimate lives of its citizens” (Ross, Christian Science Monitor, 9/12).
Marcelo Forni, a legislator in Chile’s UDI party, said, “The indiscriminate distribution (of the pill) is only going to foment sexual activity at an earlier age, the transmission of venereal diseases and AIDS and will probably result in more pregnancies” (Yulkowski/Jordan, Reuters UK, 9/11).
Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet responded, “There are roles that the family undertakes and which no one can replace.
But naturally the state has another role to fulfill, and that is to offer a range of alternatives, which people can choose between - according to their own family values and principles” (Christian Science Monitor, 9/12).
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.