UK abortion rates rise despite easy access to morning-after pill

According to an expert in the UK, abortion rates have not been reduced by making it easier for women to get emergency contraception.

The morning-after pill, which can be used up to 72 hours after sex, was made available over the counter in the UK five years ago.

Professor Anna Glasier, who is the director of Sexual and Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh, says rather than adopting the attitude that "anything is better than nothing" for women wanting to avoid pregnancy, the focus should instead be on educating people to take precautions before or during sex rather than afterwards.

The morning-after pill is now widely available over-the-counter in pharmacies as well as through GPs, some hospital emergency departments and sexual health clinics and figures last year indicated that the number of women buying the morning-after pill from chemists doubled in one year.

Professor Glasier, says emergency contraception was supposed to be the the solution to rising abortion rates and in the U.S., it is claimed that 43% of the reported drop in abortions have been down to emergency contraception, and around 51,000 pregnancies were prevented by it.

She says similar calculations should then mean that emergency contraception prevented more than 66,500 abortions in England and Wales in 2004, yet, despite the increase in the use of emergency contraception, abortion rates have not fallen but have risen, despite the morning-after pill being available from chemists for five years.

UK figures show that abortion rates have gone up from 11 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 in 1984 (136,388 abortions) to 17.8 per 1,000 in 2004 (185,400 abortions).

Professor Glasier says research has shown that women did not always use the contraception at the right moments because they were unaware they had put themselves at risk and as a result it had no impact on pregnancy or abortion rates and she questions whether it is as clinically effective as claimed.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health says emergency contraception had never been promoted as the answer to rising abortion rates in the UK and their policy has always been that safe sex, using reliable contraception on a regular basis, is the best way for women to protect against unwanted pregnancy.

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