Should we have to pay for the morning after pill?

·3-min read
Photo credit: Altayb - Getty Images
Photo credit: Altayb - Getty Images

Gym leggings. Smartwatches. Coffee machines. Yes. But the last thing we expected to see on offer in this weekend’s Black Friday sales was emergency contraception.

“The fact that Boots can offer a 50% discount [on the morning-after pill] for Black Friday demonstrates how much profit margin there is on emergency contraception,” reads the Facebook post from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) calling out the UK’s largest pharmaceutical chain. “There is no excuse for Boots to double the price once this ‘offer’ runs out.”

Billed as their “biggest ever Black Friday,” Boots temporarily dropped the price of emergency medication Levonorgestrel (which usually starts from £15.99) to £8 in the annual pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, telling customers to “use the code BLACKFRIDAY50 at the checkout”.

Photo credit: Boots UK
Photo credit: Boots UK

The experience of buying the morning after pill isn’t exactly like buying a new hairdryer or picking up a fragrance. Bagging a half-price discount on an emergency medication to prevent pregnancy probably doesn’t have the same sort of dopamine hit, either. It’s used after unprotected sex or when contraception has failed (like if the condom splits or you’ve missed a pill) and even though there’s ongoing research into a male contraceptive pill, women are currently the only ones who can take responsibility here.

“It is wrong that a woman in need of emergency contraception this time next week will be forced to pay double the price compared with a woman who needs this medication today,” Clare Murphy, chief executive of BPAS, told Cosmopolitan UK. “This essential medication should be available, affordable and accessible for everyone who needs it.”

BPAS calls the apparent mark-up “a sexist surcharge,” especially since the pill is available in some places (including walk-in centres and GP surgeries) completely free on the NHS. So, should we really have to pay for it in other places?

Photo credit: taratata - Getty Images
Photo credit: taratata - Getty Images

Murphy adds: “At BPAS, we regularly see women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy who were deterred from using emergency contraception because of the obstacles to access, including the price. The current offer shows that it is entirely possible for big pharmacy chains to make emergency contraception much more affordable.”

At the time of writing, there is a real disparity in pricing. Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug are both selling Levonorgestrel for £13.49 but one online retailer called Dr Fox sells the same contraception brand for £3 suggesting that it is really manufactured for a fraction of the high street price.

Back in 2017, when Boots dropped the price from £28.25 to £15.99 it was a U-turn for the company when, only a month before, they suggested that dropping the price would “incentivise inappropriate use”. And even though this weekend’s Black Friday 2021 promotion was aimed at “raising awareness of certain online services,” as a Boots spokesperson reassured us in a statement, this is only for the short term.

“We sometimes offer short-term promotions in order to raise awareness of certain services but it is not usually possible to sustain significant discounts in the long term,” explains a Boots spokesperson. “Our pricing model takes into account the expert clinical advice and consultation that we give with these services and the prices are in line with other high street pharmacies.

“The morning after pill is available for free in many NHS settings, including in Boots pharmacies that have been commissioned by local NHS CCGs [Clinical Commissioning Groups] to provide such a service.”

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