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You can now buy the morning after pill for £3
Photography Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, via Unsplash

Boots cutting the cost of the morning after pill is a great victory

Activists and MPs have been campaigning for years against the ‘grossly sexist surcharge’ on emergency contraception

After years of campaigning by healthcare charities and MPs to end the “grossly sexist surcharge”, Boots has finally lowered the price of the morning after pill. The pharmacy chain will now sell generic emergency contraception for £10, making it the most affordable option on the high street. Pricing for branded products will also be reduced. 

“Emergency contraception is a vital component of women’s healthcare and provides a safety net for women by preventing unwanted pregnancies,” said MP Dame Diana Johnson, who led the campaign, of the news. “It is critical that any obstacles to accessing contraception are addressed and that the sexual and reproductive health of women is protected.”  

The campaign for affordable, accessible emergency contraception was launched by the charity BPAS back in 2016. Boots initially refused to lower the cost of the morning after pill on the basis that doing so would “encourage inappropriate use,” and only reduced the price to £15.99 after Labour MPs intervened in 2018. With the same medication available from online pharmacies for as low as £3 and the cost of manufacturing the drug around £2, this was still a significant mark-up.

The high street pharmacist then faced huge backlash last November when it ran a “Black Friday” discount on the morning after pill, selling the generic version Levonorgestrel 1500mcg for £8 from their website. Campaigners and a coalition of Labour MPs led by Dame Johnson called on Boots to make the discount permanent, imploring the retailer to “lead the way on this issue and demonstrate a clear commitment to improving women’s reproductive health and wellbeing.” Following a pricing review last month, Boots confirmed to Johnson that they have reduced the price of their morning after pill service in stores and online this week.

“As a journalist working in the women’s rights space it really is not often we get to celebrate a win,” Rose Stokes, the journalist who brought Boots’ “Black Friday” deal to widespread attention, tells Dazed. The announcement marks a huge positive step in the right direction, Stokes says, and will help many people avoid what can be hugely traumatic unplanned pregnancies. “To know that what we did is actually having a measurable and tangible impact on women's lives is just incredible – it's a feeling I'm not sure I’ll ever top.”

A spokesperson from Boots said of today’s announcement: “Our priority remains offering the highest standard of care to women, and we will continue to provide our expert pharmacy consultation and advice as an integral part of this service to support women in making the right choice for them.”

Pharmacy emergency contraception is often women’s only choice when their usual method fails. While the morning after pill is available for free from GPs and sexual health clinics, this is not always a practical or accessible option. Cuts to public spending have increasingly restricted services and appointments can be hard to obtain (particularly within the 72-hour window of having unprotected sex). Access to emergency contraception was so limited in quarantine that between March and April 2020, sales fell by 50 per cent while NHS prescriptions for the pills dropped by 20 per cent. As a result, BPAS, which carries out a third of abortions in the UK, reported a rise in women seeking abortion care, with a 15 per cent increase in consultations from April to June.

“The pandemic has highlighted that contraceptive services need sustainable investment,” Dr Anne Lashford, vice president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), told Dazed in May 2020. “Funding and commissioning challenges have led to an overstretched and underfunded sexual and reproductive healthcare service that was not sustainably supported to provide care to women and girls either before or during a pandemic.”

Boots is the largest high-street pharmacy in the UK, with over 90 per cent of the population living within 10 minutes of one of their stores, making it a major outlet for people wanting to access services like emergency contraception. The retailer’s initial refusal to reduce cost on the basis that it would “incentivise inappropriate use” has been called “condescending and patronising” by campaigners. 

“It’s completely inaccurate and out of touch with the people who use this essential medication,” says Stokes. “Most people who access this pill did not plan to, and the responsibility for contraception in a decent society would belong in equal parts to both sexual partners. Also, there is no such thing as inappropriate use; if you need this medication, your use of it is appropriate.” 

“I agree most people would rather not find themselves in the position of needing to take this pill, but the best antidote to that is to increase funding into sexual health services and education around contraception, not to blame women.”