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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Chemist morning-after pill closer
morning after pill
The morning after pill can be taken 72 hours after sex
Emergency contraception may soon be available over the counter at pharmacies after government experts said it was safe.

But proposals to make the morning-after pill easier to get have outraged anti-abortion groups.

At the moment, women must get a prescription signed by a doctor.



We are concerned for the safety of the women and girls who take it.

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
A woman can begin a course of emergency contraception up to 72 hours after intercourse has taken place.

Under the proposed changes, any woman over the age of 16 would be able to ask for the drugs at her chemist.

A six-week consultation period was launched on Friday after the Committee on the Safety of Medicines (CSM) advised that one form of emergency contraception could safely be supplied by chemists.


chemist
A prescription is needed at the moment
The makers of Levonelle 2 - Schering Healthcare, have applied for it to be reclassified as an "over-the-counter" drug.

It is expected to cost between 10 and 12 a course.

Once the consultation period is over, the Medicines Commission, which oversees drug safety will make a recommendation to ministers in July.

The proposals have been praised by the Family Planning Association.

Hard to get pills

Its chief executive, Anne Weyman, said: "Our contraceptive education service helpline receives numerous calls from women who have experienced difficulties in obtaining emergency contraception.

"Many are unable to get to their GP or family planning clinic within the three-day time limit."

A spokesman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service added: "This is a tremendous step forward.

"It puts to bed allegations that it would be medically unsafe for pharmacists to sell emergency conctraception without a prescription."

However, anti-abortion groups condemned it.

A spokesman for The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child said: "This is not contraception - it is effectively a huge dose of hormones which causes abortion.

"We are concerned for the safety of the women and girls who take it. It can have serious side effects.

"We are concerned that a busy pharmacist may not have time to go through the potential problems with a woman asking for this product, and may not pick up on dangers that a doctor would."

Because emergency contraception uses higher doses of hormones contained in birth control pills, it slightly raises the risk of damaging blood clots.

Doctors would not advise regular use of the morning after pill instead of the normal contraceptive pill for this reason.

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See also:

29 Nov 99 | Medical notes
Emergency contraception
13 Feb 00 | Health
Young take risks with sex
07 Jul 99 | Latest News
Women to get emergency pill
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