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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Morning-after pill: Should it be available over the counter?
Talking Point: Morning After Pill
An anti-abortion group's bid to end the sale of the morning-after pill without a prescription has been defeated.

The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) had challenged the government's decision to allow the medication to be sold by chemists to over-16s.

But the High Court rejected SPUC's case following a judicial review.

If SPUC had been successful, the morning-after pill would only have been available to women if prescribed by two doctors - the same restrictions which cover abortions.

Do you agree with the court's decision? Should the morning-after pill be freely available to over-16s?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Having been taken off The Pill for medical reasons I have had to take the morning after pill once, when a condom split. This wasn't a one night stand, it was during a 4 year relationship. Children were not part of the relationship (which has since ended), however if this pill hadn't been available I may have ended up as another single mother with an unwanted child.
Amanda, UK

The "morning after pill" does not initiate an abortion!

Chris B, England
The "morning after pill" does not initiate an abortion! It prevents conception from occurring. People should get their facts right before ranting on about abortion. Conception does not occur so abortion of a fertilised egg is emphatically not an issue in this context.
Chris B, England

Very tough call indeed, the pill may reduce unwanted pregnancies but can't prevent STD.
George Nipah, England

I think everyone is ignoring the fact that when women take the morning after pill, they have no idea whether or not they are pregnant. I would rather we are able to take immediate measures to prevent a possible pregnancy, than have to have an abortion 3 months down the line. And in the long run, no one has the right to dictate to others what they do with their bodies.
Faye, England

Once again I am bewildered by the utter lack of logic from that side of the pond. You lead the way in finding ways to kill the innocent unborn, yet constantly berate America over the death penalty for those who commits atrocious acts.
Ryan Corcoran, Austin, TX, USA

The moment an egg is fertilised by the sperm, a new human being exists. This new human being is not a part of the mother's body, however much a pro-abortionist may want it to be. I agree with your correspondent's comment that the medical establishment fully accepts that human life begins at conception. This being the case, the judge in the morning after pill judicial review is clearly wrong in suggesting a woman is not pregnant until the embryo implants. The Morning After pill unquestionably is abortifacient and, as such, its supply over the counter is illegal without the consent of 2 doctors in accordance with the requirements of the Abortion Act. Furthermore, its supply in any circumstances is clearly immoral, as indeed every abortion is, as it results in the deliberate causing the death of a human being. Those opposing the judicial review were unable to produce any evidence to contradict this statement.
Peter Bates, England

This sort of pill should be easily available for those who feel that the time is not right for a child in their life

Gareth Smith, England
My personal opinion is anti-abortion but I also believe in free choice and free will. This sort of pill should be easily available for those who feel that the time is not right for a child in their life and have made a "mistake in judgement" concerning the use of contraception during the course of the previous 24 hours. Also as stated previously this pill needs taking as soon as is humanly possible for it to have the best chance of working.
Gareth Smith, England

Yes it should be. Having worked with young prostitutes I've seen what happens if it isn't available. It's not pretty. Considering my son was aborted, I think I would have preferred the morning after pill solution. It's a lot easier to say goodbye if you never get to see your child. Abortion is a tragedy for everyone involved, and it's a horrific choice for anyone to have to make. Personally I'd consider the morning after pill be made more available as an option - even to under 16s. There are some decisions a girl shouldn't have to make until she's a woman.
Quentin Holt, New Zealand

The easy availability of the morning-after pill became inevitable once it became legal. The government funds every effort to frustrate the natural process of human development from fertilisation/conception. The poor embryo is treated as a foreign body to be got rid of. When did anyone reading these comments begin to exist? Answer: at fertilisation. The morning-after pill is the consequence of the culture of death which now pervades our society. It is terrible to think that in the same supermarket where I buy the essentials to support life, others are buying (or receiving free) a pill that kills life.
John Boyle, UK

I noticed that many people were commenting on "women's rights" to control their bodies - what about the unborn child's rights? That developing little human being has as much right to life as any of us do, yet it cannot speak in its own defence, so we kill it. We have become so pathetically self-centred that we can think of no one but ourselves! If this pill will endanger the tiny human life inside the mother, it should not be used. I am a woman myself, so I'm sensitive to the issue of women's rights, but I don't demand them at the expense of someone else!
Ann, USA

The argument of a life becoming a life at conception is flawed

As someone who has been trying to conceive for almost a year, even I believe this should be readily available. The argument of a life becoming a life at conception is flawed. Even when conception takes place the fertilized egg has to implant in the uterus - this happens in a fairly small percentage of cases - preventing something that has not even happened yet is not killing.

I don't agree with abortion on 'social' grounds but I think that it is a little far-fetched to classify use of emergency contraception along with surgical abortion. So I do agree that the morning-after pill should be available. However, there still is the question of the best way of making it available, and this is part of what SPUC was debating, even if we don't all agree with their views on it being morally equivalent to surgical abortion. The morning-after pill, as Sue says, does have very unpleasant side-effects, and it has health risks such as the risk of failure, the risk of the foetus then being damaged and the risk of ectopic pregnancy. In view of these risks, is it really wise to make it available over the counter? Surely the point about needing doctors' approval is to ensure that every woman who needs to use it is in full knowledge of what it involves and can better look after her health. If I ever found I needed to use it, I would prefer to go to my doctor and have the full knowledge about it first.
Alice, UK

When dealing with such huge ramifications of having an unplanned pregnancy, I still think the morning-after pill should still remain available over the counter. Most forms of contraception are not 100% safe, so the pill should still remain available to women in such circumstances. I think most women would want to take a pill than go through the harrowing ordeal of an abortion.
Simon, London, UK

Paddy Leahy et al: take note that conception does not generally occur during or even immediately after intercourse. The "morning after pill" is designed to work during the delay between these two events and thus prevent conception. It is not designed to eject an already fertilised egg. Once you understand the mechanics of the principle, you'll realise that there is no drum to bang and no high moral ground to take on this subject. The "morning after pill" is really a retrospectively administered contraceptive, so, unless you are one of the anti-contraceptive brigade, there is no case to answer beyond that constructed by imagination coupled with a lack of understanding of the subject.
Chris B, England

Paddy Leahy made a few interesting points. Yes women are left with the right to have sex or not, however they do not have the choice to be raped or to have contraception fail. With regard to human life beginning at conception blah blah blah you seem to be forgetting the rights of the other party involved; the human that has already been born.
Sarah, UK

Comments from people like Paddy Leahy make me realise why I dislike the anti-abortion crowd so much. Firstly, the morning-after pill prevents the egg from implanting in the womb, so it cannot be termed as abortion. Second, these so called "pro-life" campaigners campaign blindly without a single thought for the person who has to carry and raise these children. I'm sorry, but their rights come above yours, mine, or any un-born child. And for you to try and impose your will on these people's bodies is just sickening. The free availability of the morning-after pill is a good thing as far as society is concerned.
Simon, UK/Finland

What gives us the right to decide when a human is a human?

Paddy Leahy, England
SPUC are not trying to limit "women's choices." The banning of the morning-after-pill without prescription, would leave women with the right to decide whether or not to have sex. They are merely trying to protect unborn children whilst giving them a chance to live. Likewise, the scientific community agrees that life begins at conception - just study an Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary!

As a left-wing student I'm amazed that many people support abortion. What gives us the right to decide when a human is a human? Everyone deserves a chance to live, not just a lucky percentage of the population.
Paddy Leahy, England

Yes, so called morning after pills should be easily available, if safe. So should birth control pills. The fewer unwanted children, the better.
Charmaine Mansour, USA

Surely if abortions are allowed in this country the morning after pill should be as well. By not allowing women to have access to the pill would be violating our human rights. It is up to us to decide whether we take the pill or not, not a society which, although they have good intentions, does have a biased opinion.
L. Anyon, UK

Am I so insensitive as to suggest that we should all err on the side of life, every chance we get?

Jerry Beard, USA
It was said that a few cells does not constitute a human being, but I say that a few cells with DNA unique from the mother, and the spark of life to grow on its own, does. That human being is not a part of its mother, as much as a car is not part of its garage. Am I so insensitive as to suggest that we should all err on the side of life, every chance we get? It is far more cruel to rob our children of the protection they deserve, deferring to an imprecise science to make the moral decision for us, for lack of honesty or fear of truth. And what message does that send to those young who are yet developing their moral structure? Does this not cheapen life for them also? Death is the result of irresponsibility, not the answer to it. Maybe a pill which induces frigidity should be next.
Jerry Beard, U.S.A.

Unless every act of unprotected intercourse led to a pregnancy, which of course it does not, SPUC's argument that emergency contraception is abortion is total nonsense. Well done Mr Justice Munby - he is a judge, and a good judge too.
Kay, Scotland

It is still an abortion and should, therefore, be subject to the same law. To make such a product freely available will cause young people to be careless in their use of barrier contraception. Pregnancy is not, by any means the worst that can happen as the result of unprotected sexual intercourse.
Derek Blyth, UK

There's no point in being required to go to a doctor for the morning after pill. I've done it. All you do is tell the doctor is that you had unprotected sex. That's not the kind of information that requires an advanced degree to figure out. Wastes your time and theirs. Cut out the prescription - its nothing but a formality - and make this an over-the-counter medication.
Eden, USA

Such a large dose of hormones in one go cannot be good for the body

Sue, UK
I think it should remain a prescription drug. I needed it once, and was easily able to get it from my doctor. It is a powerful drug though, and the side effects can be really unpleasant. For this reason I don't think it should be available over the counter. Such a large dose of hormones in one go cannot be good for the body, and whilst I am not disputing that it is sometimes necessary, it's availability should be restricted. Anybody who's taken it and suffered the side effects would agree.
Sue, UK

It makes me extremely angry that the SPUC think they can dictate what I can and cannot do with my own body. I presume that according to the SPUC it is better to destroy a child's life by bringing it into a world where it would be unwanted, even resented, rather than remove an egg that may or may not have even be fertilised?
Anna, UK

I am in a committed relationship. We are currently saving to buy our first home together, and both work extremely long hours to build a future for ourselves, and for any children we have in the future. However, a few weeks ago we had an 'accident'. The doctors surgery was closed for two days, so my only other option was to purchase the morning after pill. I am fiercely opposed to anybody who would rather have a child born into a family that cannot support it. The pill prevents the egg from even being released - destroying an embryo doesn't even feature in the equation!
Anon, England

When 'Laura D/J, UK' joins the sexually active population she may well discover that even the most consciencous and careful user of barrier methods sometimes needs an emergency backup. Condoms can split, that doesn't make you irresponsible, just a victim of chance. It can even happen to nice boys and girls in long term stable relationships. SPUC would given half a chance plunge us back to the days of back street abortions and 'being sent away to have it'.
Anon, UK

If they were responsible enough then the morning after pill would not be required anyway,

Laura, UK
Personally I do not think it should be so easily available. Condoms are given out free at a family planning clinic. It all boils down to the maturity of the individual, if they were responsible enough then the morning after pill would not be required anyway, it only makes it too easy to sleep around, as is the case with the majority of people my age and under (18).
Laura D/J, UK

As a Doctor, I can assure all those who think the contrary, that the morning after pill is ineffective once conception takes place. In essence, it's basically a high dosage birth control pill that gives a woman a last chance to prevent an unwanted conception.

They contain a high concentration of the hormones estrogen and progestin, and can either inhibit ovulation, meaning no egg will be released, or they can alter the menstrual cycle, delaying ovulation. It is unfortunate that a minority of people continually attempt to impose their moral or religious ethics on everyone else. This is most apparent in a subject such as this, where opinion is portrayed as fact.
Simon Luker, UK

I don't agree with abortions as such, however the morning after pill does not kill the foetus, it just stops it implanting in the womb. I would rather someone took this pill than face the possibility of an abortion a few months later. I would prefer it if the doctor was involved, however as it has been said before, it is often impossible to see a doctor within 72 hours.
Caron, England

Congratulations on a much more enlightened Britain in allowing the "morning after pill" to be sold over the counter! ... Here in the States our courts still deny women the right to control their own bodies.
Paul, USA

I can't see what this pill does for women's reproductive rights

Ruth, UK
Many people find it ethically objectionable that the morning-after pill kills the cells of embryos which have formed. Women have enough choice and obtaining doctors' advice before taking the morning-after pill would ensure that an informed choice is made, rather than a hasty knee-jerk decision. Responsibility and security has just been eroded from sexual relationships. I can't see what this pill does for women's reproductive rights.
Ruth, UK

Accidents happen. Anything that allows young women to take sensible and efficient steps towards preventing pregnancy is welcome. It isn't always easy to see your GP or family planning clinic within the crucial 72 hours after unprotected sex. For years now we've had these moralists making efforts to punish women for their sexuality (if you're a woman who is having sex, you have to accept the consequences whether or not you are able to have that child, end of story) and I'm so pleased to see that once again they have been rebuffed. The morning-after pill is not like an abortion, it prevents a pregnancy before it happens, before life has been created whereas an abortion stops a life already formed.

Women choose to take the morning-after pill because they don't want to be pregnant, therefore isn't it logical that those same women are far more likely to have a termination if they do fall pregnant? Surely it makes sense to the pro-life groups when they realise that the morning after pill will prevent the loss of life that they so vocally abhor? It seems that logic does not come into any argument with these people.
Kirsten Garratt, Scotland

It should be by prescription, but from one doctor (either at a hospital, private practice, clinic, college physician, etc). Keeps the issue at the required level of seriousness while allowing the woman to speak with a professional for advice.
Jamie Bessich, US

We can't stop kids from having sex but we can stop them from becoming parents

Yes it should be freely available because to deny that children under 16 are having sex is naive and dangerous. We need to stop this country being the worst for underage sex and teenage mothers. Parents need to be more responsible in educating children about sex, the dangers of early sexual activity for girls (higher rates of cervical problems etc) and the effect pregnancies have on young kids. We can't stop kids from having sex but we can stop them from becoming parents as teenagers. It should be prescribed over the counter.

Another good day for the British judiciary, well done!

James Miller, UK
What is the matter with our judiciary at the moment? Yet another decision that takes account of common sense and public opinion. Are we entering new and enlightened times or have judges' chambers finally opened the windows and allowed some enlightenment to shine through? Following so close on the heels of the judgement allowing the lady to turn off her life support machine, this is another good day for the British judiciary, well done!
James Miller, UK

The action brought by SPUC does indeed prove one thing; that SPUC has no common sense whatsoever. Where will they draw the line? Will they next suggest condoms are illegal?
Russell, England

This is a sad outcome for women

Sarah, UK
If this case had been successful it would have ensured that women are told the truth about how the morning-after pill works. It would have prohibited once and for all the misleading marketing of this pill as emergency contraception. There is nothing contraceptive at all about a pill designed to destroy an existing embryo. This is a sad outcome for women.
Sarah, UK

I have a teenage daughter. So far she has not let her moral standards drop to the point where she needs this product. But I'm glad it is readily available, because people do make mistakes, accidents do happen and attacks on women do occur. To NOT have this option would be a backward step.
Lee, UK

A few cells does not constitute a human being, but I guess the SPUC don't realise that! I feel the correct judgement was made in court and to take this any further is yet another waste of money and time in the courts.
Alan Kirk, Leicester, England

To Alan Kirk, you are just a few cells too. If you're big enough to have sex you should be big enough to face the consequences. Not take the easy option. Cheapened life is a result of cheapened sex.
Erwin Saxon, UK

Regarding Alan Kirk's comment, a few cells may not be a human being but they do exhibit the scientific requirements that biologists use to define life. The morning after pill kills those cells, and therefore ends a life just as much as a bullet or knife may for a fully-formed human being (which is not the same as preventing life from occurring in the first place by using a barrier contraceptive).
George, United Kingdom

To P, Abortion is the removal of a foetus from the uterus. Or, the termination of a pregnancy. This Pill effectively stops the egg implanting itself in the uterus. Therefore even if the egg has been fertilized it is still not an abortion as the woman never actually gets pregnant in the first place.
Matthew, France

It is still abortion

Even if the mechanism is different, it is still abortion. That means the high court and the government have double standards.

With my doctors you'd have to rename it the 'Tuesday after next' pill! Seriously, though, the drug needs to be taken without delay to provide the best chance of success.
Jonathan Kelk, UK

Should the morning-after pill be available over the counter?



6198 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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