Why Won't Boots Lower The Price Of The Morning After Pill?

Updated: Boots has said it is 'truly sorry' for its response to cutting the cost of one of its morning-after pills, in light of Tesco and Superdrug halving the price of theirs

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Last week, Boots said it would not lower the cost of the morning-after pill despite a campaign from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a leading provider of abortion care.

The high street chain's chief pharmacist, Marc Donovan, stated that the company did not want to be accused of 'incentivising inappropriate use'.

The internet, quite rightly, had a lot to say about this. The women's parliamentary Labour party (PLP) wrote to Donovan to express 'deep concern' about the company's refusal to reduce the price of emergency contraception. The letter has been signed by prominent MPs including Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper.

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Now, though, it appears Boots have gone back on their first thoughts.

Announcing the retailer's change of stance on Friday night, a spokesman for Boots said: 'Pharmacy and care for customers are at the heart of everything we do, and as such we are truly sorry that our poor choice of words in describing our position on emergency hormonal contraception has caused offence and misunderstanding, and we sincerely apologise.'

The high-street chain said its price tag was based on the cost of the medicine and the consultation pharmacists carries out with women but is 'committed' to finding less expensive versions of the tablet.

'We firmly believe in the right of all women to access the EHC service with ease and convenience, and have long been at the forefront of increasing accessibility of contraception for women,' they wrote.

In the original response, which appeared in a letter seen by the Guardian to BPAS from Donovan, the store said it had considered the issue very carefully, but pointed out that the pill is already available for free in community pharmacies and NHS services.

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The letter then went on to say the pharmacy did not want to be accused of 'incentivising inappropriate use' and 'provoking' complaints in the process.

Which sounded an awful lot like they were justifying charging extortionate prices for something every women should, by right, have access to for fear of pissing off a sexist section of society.

BPAS said deliberately setting the price high to prevent women from using it regularly was both 'patronising and insulting'.

'Women in France seem perfectly capable of 'appropriate' use, despite having access to EC for seven euros,' Katherine O'Brien, Head of Media at BPAS, told Vice. 'Why are UK women any different? We don't need Boots saving us from ourselves.'

The Women's Equality Party also joined forces with the BPAS to call for a boycott using the hashtag #justsaynon.

'Women should be able to access emergency contraception without being ripped off,' said Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party, in a press release. '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.

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'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.'

Both Superdrug and Tesco agreed to reduce the price of emergency contraception. Tesco now charges £13.50 for Levonelle and Superdrug £13.49 for a generic version.

Yet, up until last Friday, Boots were still charging £28.25 for Levonelle emergency contraceptive and £26.75 for its own generic version.

Boots said its price tag was based on the cost of the medicine and the consultation the pharmacists carries out with women but it is "committed" to finding less expensive versions of the tablet.

It said: "We firmly believe in the right of all women to access the EHC service with ease and convenience, and have long been at the forefront of increasing accessibility of contraception for women.

Women in France seem perfectly capable of 'appropriate' use, why are UK women any different?

The high street chain will now seek out a cheaper alternative.

In 2016, British women were paying almost five times as much for the morning after pill as those in the rest of Europe. In France, the pill can be bought for roughly the same price as an overpriced Starbucks frappe, a mere £5.50. In the UK, meanwhile, the same contraceptive typically costs upwards of £25 from high street pharmacies.

To counter this highly depressing statistic, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) launched a campaign calling for retailers to reduce the price of the morning after pill, calling the inflated rates as a 'sexist surcharge.'

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A trip to get the morning after pill is never fun. And when it involves a mandatory 'consultation' from someone behind the counter of a high-street pharmacy that leaves you swaddled in judgement and shame? Even less so.

Sure, some pills (e.g. Levonelle and ellaOne) are available for free with a prescription from a GP or sexual health clinic. But in the messy, complicated world that we call life, sometimes that just isn't an option. Sometimes you can't get time off work or an appointment within the window you need for the pill to be effective. Sometimes you've simply run out of time and need it immediately.

Thankfully it now appears Boots is allowing women proper access to emergency contraception based on fact, not scaredy-cat opinion. Finally.

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