UPDATE: Boots has now apologised for the “poor choice of words” in its original statement, saying the company is “truly sorry”.
It added that the price of the morning-after pill “is determined by the cost of the medicine and the cost of the pharmacy consultation” but that it was “committed” to sourcing a less expensive generic version in order to make it “even more accessible”. As of yet, no further details have been issued.
If the possibility of having to discuss your sex life with a stranger – potentially in front of a line of nosy customers – during your lunch hour isn’t enough to put you off getting the morning-after pill from your local high-street chemist, the idea that said chemist is judging you will probably do the trick.
After Superdrug and Tesco cut the prohibitive price of the morning-after pill following a campaign by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), it was assumed that much-loved pharmacy chain Boots would follow suit.
However, the chemist has said in a statement that the price will not drop in its 2,500 sites across the UK – reasoning that were it to match Superdrug’s £13.49, it would encourage “inappropriate use” (presumably envisaging women across the nation binning condoms and hormonal contraceptives by the truckload and rushing to Boots for a levonorgestrel jamboree).
In a letter to BPAS, Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist of Boots UK, said: “In our experience the subject of 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.”
Which implies that the company has chosen to prioritise the opinions of individuals who disapprove of women being able to access emergency contraception over the women who need it because it doesn’t want to cause a scene, as it were.
Unfortunately for the chain, the decision to reveal that keeping its pricing is a deliberate strategy to stop women using the product is already causing just such a scene, with many calling for a boycott.
As well as implying a moral stance over women’s sex lives, the decision also ignores the fact that many women seek emergency contraception because their chosen method has failed – and that the knowledge it costs £30 is not something that magically stops a condom coming off.
In another statement, as reported by Metro, Donovan said the consultation process was also used to help “prevent emergency contraception from being misused or overused.”
So if you’re not sufficiently chastised by the price, someone is available to do it face to face. The move seems particularly jarring given its apparent commitment to feminism in its advertising campaigns, and hands a easy win to its competitors.
In June, Superdrug announced it would sell Ezinelle for £13.49 – around half the £25-30 chemists currently charge for both branded and unbranded – and was praised as “trailblazing”. Ezinelle contains the same active ingredient – levonorgestrel – as well-known brands such as Levonelle, which Tesco now charges £13.50 for.
According to research released last year, the morning-after pill costs up to five times more to purchase in Britain than in other European counties; in France, it can be bought for around £5. It is available free of charge from GPs and NHS clinics, but many turn to chemists given that time is of the essence: restrictive GP opening hours, the difficulty in getting a same-day appointment and drastic cuts to sexual health services cause delays, and the morning-after pill is more effective the earlier it is taken.
But the price in chemists is a barrier for low-income women and teenagers, who may feel uncomfortable visiting their family doctor or being seen attending a local sexual health clinic.
As part of its Just Say Non campaign, which highlights the price difference between the UK and France, BPAS has set up an email template for anyone wishing to contact Boots. Many on Twitter are also using the hashtag #justsaynon to make their feelings known.
In 2003, the makers of Levonelle said the company had purposefully set the price high (then around £24, increased from the initial price of £19.99) to discourage “regular” use. A spokesperson said: “The price has been set, in part, to ensure that [emergency contraception] is not used as a regular method of contraception.”
Boots has not made clear what it believes “inappropriate use” entails, but BPAS has repeatedly pointed out that the drug is considerably safer than other off-the-shelf medications.
Main image: iStock