From today, the 'morning-after pill' will be available in Germany without a prescription. Health care professionals and religious groups have some concerns about it being so freely available.
The Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, gave the final approval needed in February to bring the country into line with a January decision by the European Commission authorizing the prescription-free sale of the 'morning-after pill.'
From March 15, the pill will be available in German pharmacies without a prescription.
Gynecologists and fertility doctors, however, say the scheme is open to be being abused. The new law allows the pill to be sold without a medical practitioner having assessed or given advice to the woman seeking the abortifacient.
Physicians also insist the need for an evaluation of how the pill is to be dispensed in pharmacies, in particular the advice available to women and girls who have been sexually abused.
Following the decision in February to make the pill available without a prescription in Germany, health experts Hilde Mattheis and Mechthild Rawert from the Social Democrats hailed the move to make the pill more readily available, saying that "women in Germany can at last decide themselves with regard to their reproductive and sexual rights."
However, the Catholic German Bishops' Conference voiced misgivings at the European Commission's decision.
"Over-the-counter access to this medication raises grave concerns," spokesman Matthias Kopp told the AFP news agency following the January conference.
Two years ago, the Conference moved away from its complete opposition to the prescription of the 'morning-after pill,' allowing it in the case of women who had been raped. However, it has always been against making it freely available.
The 'morning-after pill' that will now be available without prescription in Germany suppresses or delays ovulation, thus preventing fertilization after unprotected sex. The pill becomes less effective the longer the delay is between intercourse and taking it.
Up to the age of 20, the pill will be paid for by a womans' health insurance, provided she has a prescription. Otherwise, the pill will cost between 16 and 18 euros ($17.40 and $19.50).
jlw/ng (KNA, AFP, AP, epd, dpa)