Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Women to stock up on morning-after pill
The BPAS initiative aims to reduce unwanted pregnancies
Women will be able to keep an emergency supply of the morning-after pill at home under a pregnancy prevention scheme to be launched this week.
The pills, which are currently used by one in six British women, will be available from Friday.
BPAS says the scheme will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in Britain, which has the highest level of teenage pregnancies in western Europe.
The move is backed by the Family Planning Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and BPAS says it could eventually lead to the morning-after pill being available over the counter in pharmacies.
However, it has been criticised by pro-life and conservative groups, who argue that it could encourage teenage girls to have casual sex and is tantamount to abortion.
Until now, the morning-after pill, which prevents implantation of a fertilised egg, has been available only on prescription to women who attend clinics or go to their GP within three days of unprotected sex.
From Friday, women anywhere in the country will be able to ring a national action line on 0845 7304030 and book an appointment to see a doctor at a centre.
They will have a short consultation where they will be told how to use the pill, warned of side effects such as nausea and that it should not be used as a regular form of contraception.
The pill, which has a 75% success rate in preventing pregnancy, should also not be used by women with a history of blood clots or migraines which affect vision.
No limit will be placed on the number of pills a woman can ask for, but questions will be asked if she seeks a large amount.
Ms Furedi said the service, which will cost £10, had been launched after research conducted by the World Health Organisation showed the morning-after pill was 50% more effective if taken within 12 hours of having unprotected sex.
Some also found it difficult to get time off work to attend a clinic and others felt embarrassed to admit they had had unprotected sex, particularly given the emphasis on safer sex in recent years.
"It puts women in a situation where, instead of feeling embarrassed at having to talk to the doctor about unprotected sex which has already happened, she is saying she is being responsible," said Ms Furedi.
Ms Furedi rejected arguments that the service could encourage women to have unprotected sex.
"We know that unprotected sex is a fact of life. We are just trying to provide women with a means of escaping the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy.
"Although the morning after pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, at least it does something positive."
But the director of Family and Youth Concern, Valerie Riches, said the scheme sent the wrong signals to teenage girls.
"It is saying that you can have casual sex and it might cost you £10 but you can bail yourself out," she said.
Paul Tully, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "The morning-after pill is available only on prescription and we would have very serious concerns for the health implications of women holding their own supply.
Dr Andrew Fergusson, of the Christian Medical Centre, said: "An easy-going attitude to sex will only lead to psychological, social and spiritual distress."
He added that the pill had high levels of hormones and regular use could eventually lead to health risks.
But Ms Furedi said: "The medical consensus is that it is so safe it shoud be sold in pharmacies."