When online pharmacy Chemist 4 U revealed that they would be selling the morning after pill to women for just £4.99 per pack, the news polarised opinions.
Initially, the UK website was praised for its progressive move – being the first to make the pill available to buy online at such an affordable price tag.
However, campaigners on reproductive ethics have been quick to condemn the initiative, explaining that the accessibility presents the morning-after pill as custom contraception, when doctors advise only taking it in emergencies.
The online retailer is offering customers the opportunity to bulk buy a generic version of Levonelle, a well-known form of the morning-after pill.
Women will be able to buy as many as three packs of the pill in six months – whereas it has previously only ever been sold individually, after in-store consultations at high street pharmacies.
In some cases, the pill can be obtained for free on the NHS and at some sexual health clinics.
Now all it takes is an online form which is reviewed by a Chemist 4 U medic before distributing the drug at what Josephine Quintavelle, from Comment on Reproductive Ethics, calls “pocket money prices,” reports The Telegraph.
She explained that the low price tag raises moral concerns as it misleadingly normalises the act of taking the morning after pill so that it becomes all-too-casual a process when in fact, taking the pill, particularly more than a few times, comes with a slew of risks.
Experts have always strongly advised that women shouldn’t take it on a regular basis, though some have argued that Chemist 4 U’s “advanced supply” initiative inadvertently advocates doing so.
"They sell the product as an 'advance' purchase, ensuring a customer has a product on their shelf in case of emergencies," a spokesperson for Chemist 4 U told The Independent.
“We always advise women in an emergency situation, to go to their nearest pharmacy that day, rather than waiting a day to receive it from an online pharmacy," explained Chemist 4 U's managing director, Shamir Patel.
"However our belief is, an advanced supply from us avoids the panic in the unlikely event of barrier method failure. We advise all patients that EHC should not be used as a regular contraceptive method,” he said.
The initiative comes after Boots and Superdrug drastically reduced prices of the pill sold in store – with Superdrug’s dropping from £27 to £13.49. Tesco also sell it for £13.50.
However, the price reductions were not without controversy either. Initially, after the British Pregnancy Advisory Service urged high street retailers to drop prices of the morning after pill, Boots refused, claiming that it would encourage women to “abuse” it and that it might promote “inappropriate use.”
Alas, Boots ultimately retracted their claims and reduced the price of the pill from £26 to £15.99.