LONDON, July 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Top British pharmacy Boots has come under fire for refusing to cut the cost of 'morning after' emergency contraceptive pills, saying they might be "misused or overused".
Morning after pills, which are most effective when taken in the first few hours following unprotected sex, are available without a prescription in most European Union countries.
The availability of the pills reflects recommendations from the European Medicines Agency, which says they can be used safely without a doctor's input and that removing the need for a prescription speeds access to the medicine.
Women's healthcare charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said women in Britain can pay up to five times more for the pill compared to costs in other European countries.
BPAS, which provides abortion care services, urged Boots to stop charging nearly 30 pounds ($39.03) for the pill, calling it prejudicial.
"Improving women's access to emergency contraception – including by reducing the price – improves women's physical and mental wellbeing, enabling them to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, which can pose a serious risk to their health," BPAS spokeswoman Clare Murphy said in a statement.
"Boots needs to drop this hugely sexist surcharge."
British pharmacy Superdrug and supermarket chain Tesco recently halved the cost of the morning after pill to about 13.50 pounds ($17.56).
Boots said women could access the morning after pill free of charge through the National Health Service (NHS), and that it was "extremely disappointed by the focus BPAS have taken".
"This is a professional healthcare service which, we believe, requires a professional healthcare consultation," Boots chief pharmacist Marc Donovan said in a statement.
"The consultation helps the pharmacist offer important sexual healthcare advice to women and helps us prevent emergency contraception from being misused or overused," he said.
Several female members of parliament have also weighed in on the controversy, with some urging the public to boycott Boots.
"Do they feel same about condoms or is male sexuality totally fine. Get over it. Women have sex!" Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted on Friday.
"This is awful @BootsUK @BootsHelp & also contravenes consumer rights act," Stella Creasy, Labour and Cooperative MP, also tweeted. "You should fear the consumer rights act more and the power of all of us to withhold our custom." ($1 = 0.7686 pounds) (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)