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“The Boots morning after pill scandal only serves to highlight the entrenched bias of contraception”


Ask A Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. This week, Stylist contributor Jasmine Andersson explains why the decision by Boots not to cut the price of the morning after pill is symptomatic of a deeper sexist issue surrounding contraception.

Following a recent campaign by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Superdrug and Tesco cut the prohibitive price of the morning-after pill. But Boots stood firm, releasing a statement that the price in their 2,500 stores across the UK would not be reduced to match Superdrug’s £13.49, lest it “incentivise inappropriate use”.

While women in the UK are charged five times more than their European cousins for the privilege of the emergency contraceptive, Boots decided that this would be the turning point in which it would speak about about the sexual practice of women – while still having the audacity a pricy £30 cost of integrity. With 90% of us within a ten minute walking distance of one of its stores, the disappointment at this statement was felt widely by women.

Though the chain has since redacted its statement and apologised for the reasoning, the damage had been done. The statement had highlighted how the contraceptive industry both profiteers and shames the sexual practice of women.

Ask A Feminist

"The contraceptive industry both profiteers and shames the sexual practice of women"

The responsibility of women – and only women – is clear in this argument. For who else, after all, ingests the pill and pays its price tag? The swathes of anecdotal horrors that relay the patronising personal surveys, the condescension of disapproving pharmacists and the discomfort of the experience of procuring the morning after pill are ignored in favour of sexist vitriol. There are a litany of sources willing to stigmatise the women who are supposedly ‘reliant’ on the morning after pill. The fact that women alone are reliant on the approval of a pharmacist to take the contraceptive only serves as a further indication that women should be supervised, questioned and chastised whilst being prescribed the notion that we are the gatekeepers of our own sexual destiny.

Out of sixteen methods of contraception available on the NHS, just two can be used by men. 

Although the contraceptive is regarded as a last-resort method for women, the more sustainable contraceptives available to us are shrouded in expense, misinformation and health risks. There is no doubt that women are burdened with the responsibility of contraception. Out of sixteen methods of contraception available on the NHS, just two can be used by men. This leaves 3.5 million with the responsibility of taking the contraceptive pill, in spite of its detrimental effects on women ranging from blood clots to manic depression.

Read more: Housemates speak out after Northern Ireland woman convicted of illegal abortion

Emergency contraception

Thanks to Big Pharma kicking up such a fuss about the launch of a male contraception ending their financial heist on the pill and condoms, funding for male contraception remains infuriatingly stagnant. Although a male hormonal injection that is 98% effective is waiting in the wings for financial backing, it is still only available in India thanks to the reluctance of pharmaceutical corporations to prioritise rights over profit. In spite of the fact that three women died and a host of Puerto Rican women who didn’t speak English as their first language were exploited in the US trials that brought the pill into the global market, complaints of mood swings and weight gain in a small study of the male contraceptive injection excused the halting of production. While it has taken the UK media fifty years to recognise the life-changing detrimental effects of the pill, it took men just one study to make their voices heard.

Read more: “Why are women still bearing the brunt of responsibility for contraception?”

Even the slim few who have found the contraception that works for them are at risk. In a cost-cutting measure, the NHS is swapping women from their time-honoured, trusted pill to a cheaper alternative. A further one in three councils have cut, or is considering cutting the number of GPs practices able to provide Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (also known as LARCs) such as coils and implants.

sperm egg

"There's a reluctance of pharmaceutical corporations to prioritise rights over profit"

For women looking into alternative methods of contraception, the battle is not easy. As recent reports have shown that contraceptive services across the country are being reduced, with 1.5 million women given limited access to contraceptive services. According to the report, a further 18% of services are due to close over the year.

I want answers from a system that exploits the sexual agency of women rather than offering both men and women feasible forms of contraception. 

As someone who saw their mental health concerns brushed under the carpet in a hush-hush rush to get me onto the pill, I want answers from a system that exploits the sexual agency of women rather than offering both men and women feasible forms of contraception. Not a day goes by where I do not think of those three years, at the prime of my life, that were lost to the pill.

Even in contraceptive health reports, there is not one paragraph that discusses how satisfied women are with their contraception. We have lived under the guise that our sexual freedom is our own with the illusion of contraceptive choices. Buried beneath the statistics and usage figures lies one stark message: as long as women are tasked with the burden of taking and procuring contraception, the real irresponsibility is a contraceptive system that that is reliant on the sacrifice of women. 

Got a feminist topic you think needs air time? Get in touch with Ask a Feminist editor, Harriet.Hall@stylist.co.uk



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