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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 08:10 GMT 09:10 UK
Doubts voiced over emergency pill
Image of morning after pill

Making emergency contraception more available has failed to reduce abortion rates, a family planning expert says.

Edinburgh-based Anna Glasier said abortion rates were rising despite the morning-after pill having been available from chemists for five years.

The professor believes the focus should shift to encouraging people to take precautions before or during sex, the British Medical Journal reported.

The government said the emergency pill was not targeted at cutting abortions.

But Professor Glasier, who is director of family planning at the Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust, disagreed, saying emergency contraception had been heralded as the solution to rising abortion rates by many experts.

Emergency contraception is no substitute for correct, regular use of contraception. It is not, and was never intended to be, a panacea for abortion
Toni Belfield, FPA
CPS:LINK HREF="" ID="5348574" STYLE="rightarrow">Why are abortion rates high?

The morning-after pill, which is best used in the first 72 hours after sex, was made available over the counter in the UK five years ago.

About 6% of women use it each year, although the numbers buying it from chemists has almost doubled in the last year.

In the US, authors have claimed that 43% of the reported drop in abortions between 1994 and 2000 was down to emergency contraception, and that around 51,000 pregnancies were prevented by it in 2000/01.

But Professor Glasier, who was an advocate of emergency contraception in the 1990s, said: "Despite the clear increase in the use of emergency contraception, abortion rates have not fallen in the UK."


In 1984, 11 women per 1,000 aged 15 to 44 had abortions, compared with 17.8 in 2004.

She said research had shown that women did not always use the contraception at the right moments because they were unaware they had put themselves at risk and as a result it had no impact on pregnancy or abortion rates.

She also questioned whether it was as clinically effective as it was claimed to be.

Professor Glasier said it was important to see emergency contraception as a "back-up", not a method to reduce unintended pregnancy rates.

"It's a useful method for individual women, but as a public health measure it is not going to make a big difference to abortion rates. We have to have much more enthusiasm for methods which women use before they have sex," she told the BBC.

But Val Buxton, acting chief executive of Brook, a sexual health charity for young people, said: "Easy access to emergency contraception is an essential part of the picture, and abortion rates might be higher if it weren't for the fact that emergency contraception is more easily available than in the past."

Anne Weyman, chief executive of fpa - formerly the Family Planning Association - said emergency contraception was not the panacea but the health service was not giving women enough access to the contraceptive methods they needed.

"I think contraceptive services overall have had very low priority generally and at the moment we're actually seeing reductions because of the financial pressures in the NHS," she told the BBC.

"We're seeing closures of services in parts of the country which is going to mean that women don't get access to the methods they need, and we will see more unintended pregnancies."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said emergency contraception had never been heralded as the answer to rising abortion rates in the UK.

"Our policy has always been that safe sex, using reliable contraception on a regular basis, is the best way for women to protect against unwanted pregnancy."

More details on the doubts over the morning-after-pill

Why are abortion rates so high?
15 Sep 06 |  Health
Emergency contraception
27 Jul 05 |  E-F

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