Women in this country have only very limited choices when it comes to healthcare. We can illustrate this by tackling the issue of a married woman’s health problems and her right to choose to become pregnant or not.
There is an emergency contraceptive that can still prevent a pregnancy after a contraceptive failure (Plan B). It’s used when things don’t go as planned for the woman; for instance, when forgetting to take the pill or have sex without normal precautions.
The pill works like a regular birth control measure. It prevents pregnancy mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary, and may also prevent the fertilization of an egg.
Plan B may also work by preventing it from attaching to the uterus (womb). These pills may reduce the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent.
It’s well known that contraceptives don’t prevent pregnancy 100 percent. There’s always a small chance that pregnancy might happen. Using antibiotics for example to fight a disease might reduce the effectiveness of contraceptives and increase the chances of pregnancy. A large number of women don’t know this piece of information. A woman might be taking her pills regularly while using antibiotics; then she gets shocked when she discovers she’s pregnant. Her health might be in danger because of this pregnancy or she might not want it for some psychological or financial reasons. Doctors usually advise these women to take Plan B as an alternative method to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
This type of contraceptive is a very helpful tool that serves the woman by giving her and her husband the choice to control pregnancy before it is too late. I must mention that these pills don’t have any side effects that might harm the child if pregnancy happens. It just prevents it from happening just like all contraceptives do.
Therefore, Plan B is effective only during the crucial initial period where the egg has not been fertilized yet if we keep in mind that the egg needs a few days to grow and that the fertilization process doesn’t happen in the womb, but in the Fallopian tube.
After conception the egg falls into the womb within a few days; that’s why pregnancy takes much more time than what many people think. Plan B is available in many countries around the world except our own. I believe that officials in the Ministry of Health have their own reasons for prohibiting the importation of this contraceptive even though it’s necessary for many women who care about their families and children.
I personally don’t know why Plan B isn’t available in Saudi Arabia since all other contraceptives can be bought at all local pharmacies. Plan B is similar to any regular contraceptive in containing hormones and preventing pregnancy; so where is the problem?
If we assume that a couple didn’t plan to have children and then suddenly and unexpectedly the wife becomes pregnant. This pregnancy will bring about health problems, psychological and social complications for her, her husband and the child.
Sometimes certain psychological and financial situations might not be conducive to receiving a newborn baby. And even though there are religious and cultural ideas advocating bringing more children into the world, it still needs financial and psychological efforts.
Children are a huge responsibility that parents must be dedicated and committed to take care of. Many Saudi families might not be able to provide this because of different circumstances. In the US and Britain there are private health centers dealing with gynecological problems that keep all patients information confidential and provide them with the necessary medical care.
They regularly organize lectures and awareness campaigns in schools and universities emphasizing the importance of sex and body awareness. And because some people practice sex outside wedlock, these centers enlighten them with the dangerous consequences, health wise and socially of such acts.
In Saudi Arabia, there is no need to make people aware of the dangers of such things.
But there is definitely a need to educate women, especially the illiterate ones, on how to use healthy methods to deal with pregnancy or with their bodies prior to pregnancy.
What’s worthy of mentioning is that there are plenty of Saudi women who use alternative medicine or herbal remedies instead of proper medical treatment.
They tend to buy different remedies from spice dealers or old ladies who promote certain material for different uses.
Women seek these remedies either wanting to become pregnant or to prevent pregnancy. These remedies come in different forms and shapes such as ointments, capsules, or suppositories and they are likely to be contaminated or polluted endangering women’s health.
When some are asked why they use these methods that might have terrible side effects instead of seeking medical consultation, they either say that they have no other available options or because they believe contraceptives are injurious to health.
People need to understand the dangers of alternative medicine. Dr. Jabir Al-Qahtani had made great efforts in this field explaining the possible damages such remedies might cause. But the problem won’t end unless women start to receive education and awareness that include presenting alternative medical solutions that are healthy. Medical and science developments bring new means and methods to serve the human being and achieve the highest levels of health and comfort. And we have to follow up the new innovations to serve our country and its citizens.
— Maha Al-Hujailan is a medical researcher at King Khaled University Hospital in Riyadh.