UK Challenge To Over-The-Counter Sale Of 'Morning After Pills' Fails

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - A Conservative Party attempt to stop the British government from allowing over-the-counter sales of the "morning-after pill" has failed, with the House of Lords voting against the opposition motion.

Conservative lawmaker Baroness Young brought an application Monday night to ban the sale of the drug on the grounds that making the treatment available without a prescription sends a message to youngsters encouraging promiscuity. It failed by 177 votes to 95.

Since the beginning of this year, women aged 16 and up have been able to buy the drug Levonelle from chemists without going through their physician. The move followed a pilot project and is aimed at reducing Britain's teenage pregnancy rate, the highest in Western Europe.

Pro-lifers oppose the pill on the grounds its use can amount to an early abortion, by preventing an already fertilized egg to implant in the lining of the uterus.

But Young, a veteran family values campaigner, based her argument on moral grounds.

She told the House: "One can picture the scene: the boy will say to the girl 'Why not? You can take the morning-after pill.' The girl will think: 'Why not? I could take the morning-after pill and be all right.' And the consequences of sleeping around are thought to be dealt with by the pill."

Young said the signal being sent was exactly the opposite from the message the "sex education industry" had been putting out for at least 20 years - unprotected sex was OK.

She also argued that girls aged under 16 would easily be able to get hold of the pill, and noted that another, little-noticed government order last year made it legal for school nurses to distribute the pill free, and in some cases to children younger than 16.

Privacy regulations mean that young girls will also be able to obtain the pill without their parents' knowledge, Young said, adding that this would "undermine family life."

Baroness Gould, a Labor lawmaker and president of the Family Planning Association, opposed Young's motion.

She said the plan was also mainly at older women who had had unprotected sex or a contraception failure and in the past struggled to get hold of the "emergency contraceptive" within the time limit it remains effective - up to 72 hours, but ideally within 48 hours of intercourse.

These women, she said, were "not irresponsible, reckless or promiscuous. They are acting responsibly in trying to prevent an unwanted pregnancy in a world where there is no 100 per cent safe method of contraception and where human beings are fallible."

Lord Moran, an independent member, saw the move as part of a government program he said was helping to create a "climate of permissiveness" in Britain.

"The drive to provide explicit sex education at ever-decreasing ages and the availability of the morning-after pill on prescription for the past 10 years have not succeeded in improving matters," he said. "Abortion rates have not been reduced, and teenage pregnancy rates in this country ... continue to rise."

The move making the pill available can be overturned by either chamber of parliament within 40 days. The Conservatives have mounted a similar challenge in the lower House of Commons.

The Christian Institute, a charity promoting a Christian perspective on ethical and moral issues, launched a campaign at the weekend saying the pill promoted promiscuity, encouraged "unsafe sex" and by extension would increase the rate of sexually-transmitted disease, which is already climbing

There are also virtually no safeguards to abuse or overuse, the CI added, noting that there have been no appropriate studies on the long-term effects of repeated use of the drug. Up to now, doctors have been able to keep a check on their patients' use of the treatment, which comprises a powerful dose of hormones.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow