Behind the headlines: the morning after pill festive furore
You may have read some alarming stories over the last several days regarding the morning after pill, and its potential availability over the holiday season. The controversy centres around the Christmas campaign from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which is providing the morning after pill free and in advance to women who request it. According to the Daily Mail, women “will be encouraged” to “stock up on free supplies” of the emergency contraceptive, while the Telegraph’s coverage of the campaign seemed to simply involve listing the various criticisms levelled at it. The Independent offered a more balanced and informative three paragraph piece and the Guardian chose not to report on the campaign at all.
Overwhelmingly, the coverage of the campaign has been very negative, focusing on the assumption that making it easier for women to access emergency contraception will increase their likelihood of having unprotected sex. Josephine Quintavalle of the ProLife Alliance, according to the Telegraph, went as far as to say that the campaign “trivialises women’s sexuality.” In truth, though this quote may make an impressive soundbite, the BPAS campaign, of course, does no such thing. The fact that medication exists which allows women to exercise more control over their sexual and reproductive health is something to be praised, not vilified.
A point of contention amongst those opposed to this campaign is the fact that BPAS provides abortions, among other services. While it is perhaps understandable that those who disagree with abortion would be opposed to BPAS on principle, it seems counterproductive in this instance to negatively react to this campaign for that reason. The whole point of the BPAS campaign is to reduce the need for abortion by offering women the medication which can prevent an unplanned pregnancy. It isn’t glamorising unsafe sex, it simply provides women with a level of protection if unprotected sex has occurred. It is frankly ludicrous to believe that any woman would willingly put herself at risk by engaging in unsafe sex just because a pill is available that can reduce the chance of pregnancy.
The Daily Mail's claim that women “are being invited to stock up on free supplies of the morning after pill” is misleading, as it suggests that women have access to an unlimited supply of this medication, which is evidently not the case. The campaign website states that a free pack is available to women, but this is clearly intended to be singular rather than plural, and BPAS have confirmed to HealthExpress that only one morning after pill will be provided for each woman. There is no suggestion at any point that a woman should “stock up” while the medication is free. The campaign information also clearly states that this medication, that is “subject to medical suitability”, should only be used in an emergency and that “more effective forms of contraception are available”.
Unsurprisingly, part of the criticism aimed at the campaign is the way it has been presented. The poster features the word “sex” spelled out in fairy lights underneath the slogan “Getting ‘turned on’ this Christmas?”. Objections have also been raised about the choice of website URL, which is santacomes.org. This has been called “vulgar” and “brazen”, and though the marketing of the campaign is clearly not intended to be, shall we say, demure, the nature of marketing is to make an impact, and in this case that has certainly been achieved. Though the reporting of the campaign has been overwhelmingly negative - a BPAS spokesperson said they were “very surprised by the scale of the coverage” - much of this is, most likely, down to the fact that the morning after pill itself remains highly controversial. Any campaign, however it is presented and marketed, that offers this medication free to young women, is bound to come under fire.
The press coverage of this campaign would have you believe that BPAS is irresponsibly promoting emergency contraception to clueless young women, who will take the opportunity to stock-pile the medication in their bathroom cabinets. As a direct result of the campaign, thousands of foolhardy women will throw caution to the winds and engage in unprotected sex, risking pregnancy, STIs and their own emotional wellbeing. Is this genuinely the case? Clearly not. No part of the BPAS campaign is encouraging promiscuity, rather it has been set up as a response to the recognised fact that it is difficult to obtain emergency contraception over the Christmas and New Year bank holidays, as pharmacists and chemists are often closed. This is surely a responsible and necessary campaign created in response to genuine need.
Click here for more information about emergency contraception.
To view the full BPAS campaign and for more information about BPAS and the services they provide, you can visit their website here.