emergency contraception

‘It feels like punishment’: It’s time to stop charging women £25 for the morning after pill

‘They could make emergency contraception cheaper, but they’re choosing not to. It’s sexist’

This year has been a pretty rocky one for big pharma – the systemic sexism of making girls pay for their emergency contraception (even turning them away at points) has been called out a number of times. Now, people are saying the morning after pill should be free.

High street staple Boots took this to the next level on Black Friday, dangling a 50% discount in front of desperate girls’ faces. Women who wouldn’t naturally pay £34.95 for a single pill unless they really had to.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has started a campaign to leave the discount live permanently, saying: “this deal shows that when it’s in their own interests, it’s possible for big pharmacy chains to make emergency contraception affordable”. The petition has 1,841 signatures at the time of writing.

Emergency contraception should naturally be accessible across the board – for people of all genders, ages, jobs and life situations. But it’s impossible to ignore the NHS research which found that female students aged 18-19 are the most likely to need access to emergency contraception. Alongside accommodation, living costs and debts, why are pharmacies expecting students to fork out £15-35 in order to protect their physical and mental health?

The Tab spoke to three university students who have previously had no option but to pay for the morning after pill, as well as one Scottish student who has been able to access it for free.

‘It feels like another punishment for women’

Dani, a second year journalism student said: “I’ve had to buy the morning-after pill from Boots for £15. I think it’s shocking that this is how much women have to pay”.

She has experimented with several forms of long-term contraception including the regular pill and the implant. Though she was able to access both for free at her GP, she finds it baffling that costs are so high for self-proclaimed emergency medication. Dani firmly believes the morning-after pill should be free.

“Personally I think having it priced is just another punishment for women that shows our bodily autonomy will never be accepted”, she added. “Why should we have to pay for something we need to access during an emergency?”

‘It almost feels like a sexist joke’

Louisa, a third-year literature student at Newcastle said: “I had to get it three times (oops) from my local Boots. I paid around the £25 mark”.

Like Dani, she just couldn’t understand why such sorely-needed medication has such a high price point. “I felt like that was extremely expensive for something literally unavoidable once you’re in the situation where you think you need it.

“I think it’s disgusting that Boots included it in the Black Friday sale honestly as it proves the morning after pill can absolutely be cheaper or free – they’re just choosing not to make that move. It almost feels like a sexist joke”.

Louisa firmly believes emergency contraception should be prescribed for free. “Women shouldn’t have to pay for making the mistake, and it seems like all the blame is being placed on us when there are so many factors to it, like contraception failure and sexual assault”.

‘People will keep on struggling with unwanted pregnancies until it becomes free’

Daisy, a journalism student from Teesside University said: “When I saw the Boots Black Friday deal I was appalled. Not only does this show that they can charge less for it, but it actually felt like it was just a bit of fun for them. It isn’t just a toy or clothing item for them to promote as they please”.

She ended up paying for the pill several times online, after feeling too embarrassed to speak to a GP in person. “At this point, I’d rather be £30 out of pocket than pregnant. But I’m in a privileged position. I believe a lot of people are going to continue struggling with unwanted pregnancies and other complications until emergency contraception becomes free”.

‘I’m so relieved the only time I’ve needed to take the morning after pill has been in Scotland’

Sophie, a politics student at University of Edinburgh said: “I didn’t initially realise it was free up here as I’m from England where you usually have to pay. The fact that it was free meant I didn’t have to awkwardly negotiate the price with the guy, asking him whether he could chip in or pay for it completely”.

The pill she purchased was totally free from her pharmacy – but would’ve left her £34.95 poorer here in the rest of the UK. “I think it’s outrageous how much it costs in England. I know you can get it for free at your GP or sexual health clinic but it’s so hard to get an appointment at the minute.

“You’re supposed to take it as quickly as possible to make sure it’s as effective as it can be – so I don’t get why it’s not free in all pharmacies everywhere to make it as easy as possible for people to access”.

The Tab also spoke to superintendent pharmacist Abbas Kanani to get an idea of why emergency contraception is currently so pricey. He said: “One of the reasons why emergency contraception is priced considerably high is because of the consultation which comes with the purchase. When bought at a pharmacy, you’ll receive a real-time, face-to-face consultation with a pharmacist.

“If the cost of emergency contraception is lowered quite considerably, it could cause the concern that it will be treated the same as regular contraception, and not as an emergency option”.

In a statement to Refinery 29, Boots said: “This Black Friday promotion that ran on our Online Doctor hub was 50% off all men’s and women’s private healthcare services. We sometimes offer short term promotions in order to raise awareness of certain services but it is not usually possible to sustain significant discounts in the long term.

“Our pricing model takes into account the expert clinical advice and consultation that we give with these services and the prices are in line with other high street pharmacies.

“The morning after pill is available for free in many NHS settings, including in Boots pharmacies that have been commissioned by local NHS CCGs to provide such a service”.

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