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Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK


Advance morning-after pills on the NHS

The pill is increasingly easy to get hold of

Women are for the first time being offered advance supplies of the morning-after pill on the NHS in an attempt to reduce the abortion rate and the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Teen pregnancy
Lothian Health Board has launched the two-year project to deal with particularly high unwanted pregnancy rates in the area.

In July, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service introduced a similar scheme, although women have to pay £10 to use it.

The Lothian scheme follows a successful trial of the service in a pilot project involving 530 women.

Increased access

Usually the morning-after pill - which works up to 72 hours after sex - is only available on prescription.

The BBC's Andrew Cassell: "Doctors say pilot trials showed good results"
But there have been calls for it to be made more easily available, particularly since World Health Organization research showed it was 50% more effective if taken within 12 hours of having unprotected sex.

It does, however, have side effects such as nausea and doctors advise 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 that affect vision.

Women aged 16 to 29 will be eligible to take part in the Lothian scheme and will be limited to five doses for the duration of the project.

The pill will be made available on prescription.

'Under-used method of contraception'

Dr Anna Glasier, Clinical Director of the Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust Family Planning and Well Women Service, said: "Despite the widespread availability of free contraception, in Scotland every year around 12,000 pregnancies are terminated.

"Although most women in Scotland know that emergency contraception exists, it is an under-used method. It must be prescribed by a doctor and used within 72 hours of sex.

"Sex often occurs at weekends, and there can often be no time on Mondays to see a doctor."

The pilot study found that women were more likely to use emergency contraception if it was kept at home than when they had to go and see a doctor.

Anti-abortion groups angered

However, increased availability of morning-after pills has attracted criticism from anti-abortion groups.

Reacting to the launch of the Lothian scheme, John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, said: "We feel it is quite disingenuous to promote the morning-after pill by claiming it reduces abortion.

"We believe the use of this pill enables those providing abortion to avoid even the minimal constraints of the Abortion Act as the morning-after pill destroys human embryos."

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