Why Won’t Boots Cut The Price Of The Morning After Pill?

Emergency contraception

by Katie Rosseinsky |

Access to emergency contraception in the UK isn't always as easy, affordable and non-judgemental as it could and should be. While pills like Levonelle and ellaOne are available for free with a prescription from a GP or sexual health clinic, for many women this simply isn't a feasible or convenient option. The alternative? A trip to a high street pharmacy involving a mandatory 'consultation' that can sometimes feel more moral than medical in purpose. As the law currently stands, pharmacists can refuse to dispense the morning after pill on 'religious grounds,' codifying the process with another level of unnecessary shame.

Victorian morality aside, the cost of the pill is prohibitive - and unnecessarily so. In 2016, an investigation by the European Consortium for Emergency Contraception unearthed a truly depressing statistic: that British women were paying almost five times as much for the morning after pill as their continental counterparts. In France, the pill could be bought for just £5.50; in the UK, meanwhile, the same contraceptive typically cost upwards of £25 from high street pharmacies.

In response, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (or Bpas) launched a campaign calling for retailers to reduce the price of emergency contraception, labelling the inflated rates as a 'sexist surcharge.' Since then, Superdrug and Tesco have both cut their prices by around half: the former now charges £13.49 for an own-brand version, while the supermarket charges £13.50 for Levonelle.

High street staple Boots, however, has just confirmed that it will not be following suit, continuing to charge £28.25 for Levonelle and £26.75 for an own-brand contraceptive pill. In a letter seen by The Independent, the brand set out the reasoning behind their decision, underlining the fact that at many Boots pharmacies, a local NHS service can provide those who are eligible with free emergency contraception. One particular point in their letter, however, has elicited widespread criticism from campaigners, with Boots stating that:

'In our experience the subject of EHC [emergency hormonal contraception] polarises public opinion and we receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that the company chooses to provide this service. We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.'

The Women's Equality Party were quick to respond to the news, with leader Sophie Walker stating in a press release that 'Women should be able to access emergency contraception without being ripped off. We know that emergency contraception can be difficult to access for free on the NHS, with appointments at GP surgeries or family planning clinics hard to obtain. Many women will need to buy these pills over the counter, and it is irresponsible and exploitative for retailers to charge over the odds for them.'

'This lack of consistency in the provision of women's contraception threatens to undermine our reproductive rights, and Boots' approach to this concern is indicative of a society that prioritises profit over women's health and wellbeing,' she concluded.

There's certainly something more than a little worrying about the semantics of Boots' statement. Are women supposed to feel glad that the company 'chooses to provide this service?' As Laura Bates of The Everyday Sexism Project points out, an air of The Handmaid's Tale hangs over the implication that accessible contraception is something that could just as easily be taken away.

Emergency contraception, is, of course, a drug, and it needs to be regulated as such. But do we really still need the covert (or is it overt?) suggestion of the all-too-familiar: that women can't be trusted to look after their own bodies in a way that is 'appropriate?' It's a message that, in light of Boots' recent attempts to court the female customer through empowering ads featuring noted feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, can't help but feel like a mis-fire.

READ MORE: Can A Fertility App Really Replace The Pill As The Most Popular Contraceptive?

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