Women will soon be able to buy a morning-after pill that works for up to five days after sex…without having to see a GP.
Any woman aged 18 or over will for the first time be able to buy the powerful medication – called EllaOne –from certain branches of the Co-operative Pharmacy.
But campaigners say that because it can be taken so long after conception it is an early form of abortion.
There are also concerns that it will encourage unprotected sex as women will see it as a ‘safety net’ – leading to higher rates of promiscuity and sexually transmitted infections.
EllaOne can be taken longer after sex than the conventional morning-after pill – which works for three days – and is up to twice as effective at preventing pregnancies.
Until now it has only been possible to get EllaOne with a prescription from a GP – or from an obscure London-based website which also sells Viagra and weight-loss drugs.
It will be on sale in England in southern England and Wales in areas with high rates of unwanted pregnancies.
It works by thickening the entrance of the womb, preventing sperm from entering and swimming up to fertilise the egg if taken in the first day or so after sex.
In addition, it changes the womb’s lining, meaning that if the pill is taken up to five days after sex, a fertilised egg cannot implant itself and develop into a foetus, although there was no evidence that these sorts of pills reduced unwanted pregnancies.
‘Instead, young people in particular have been lulled into a false sense of security, taken a more casual attitude to sex, and become exposed to an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections,’ he added.
Maria Macgregor, of the charity Life, said: ‘Ethical concerns around these kind of pills are often overlooked. One of the ways in which they can work, as the manufacturers themselves say, is by preventing the implantation of an already fertilised embryo.
‘There is even some evidence that provision of these pills can actually worsen rates of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
‘This may be due to risk-compensation, when the existence of a perceived safety net encourages less cautious behaviour.’
Jane Devenish, clinical service pharmacist at the Co-operative Pharmacy, said: ‘It is not our place to make a judgment on people’s motives or lifestyles and there can be numerous reasons for seeking medical help.
‘Its use is an emotive subject and we believe that this service will be an important step to offer women access to a wider choice of emergency contraception in a community pharmacy to enable them to make an informed decision.’
Women wanting EllaOne will be questioned by a pharmacist to check their age, and that they aren’t already pregnant or on any medication which could cause complications.
If pharmacists think someone is under 18 – and they cannot provide ID to prove otherwise – they will be refused the pill, as it has not been properly tested in younger women.
Side-effects include nausea, vomiting, headaches, mood swings and back pain, similar to the conventional morning-after pill.
Studies have shown that 0.91 per cent of women who took EllaOne became pregnant, compared with 1.68 per cent of those who took the conventional morning-after pill.
by Susan Floyd