Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Morning After Pill Pharmacist Questions: Why? Just Why?

The Questions Pharmacists Ask Before Handing Over The Morning After Pill Might Be Totally Unnecessary

The Debrief: Women report being asked ‘intrusive’ questions when going to get the morning after pill. But we have one question in response: why?

The morning after pill is a realistic and functional way of women dealing with failed or mislaid contraception. But, of course, it’s so much more than that, thanks to the hefty stigma placed on women’s reproductive health.

So when women toddle off to Boots to get themselves a morning after pill, they can’t just hand over the money (more on that in a second) to get the pill. Oh no, they’re asked questions, like: when did you have sex, which protection where you using, how often have you taken this pill…

It’s something Niamh, 26, is fed up with. She’s taken the morning after pill eight times, she tells BBC 5 Live: ‘I don’t know why I have to sit there and talk to a complete stranger about my sex life and my periods.

‘Going and getting it is the responsible thing but I’m sick of feeling judged for it and I’m sick of feeling like I’m doing something wrong when I’m trying to be responsible and adult.’


So why do pharmacists ask these questions? Are all of them useful for the pharmacist to know? Or are some unnecessary prying into the sex lives of women? Why do this at the time when it quite literally is an emergency?

Those clever lot over at BBC5 Live had the same questions, too, asking some experts.

Dr Jane Dickson, from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FRSH) blogged for the British Medical Journal to say ‘Despite occasional minor side effects, no woman has poisoned herself with EC [emergency contraceptive], unlike paracetamol, which is readily available in supermarkets. If a woman has a headache, she does not need a risk assessment or consultation to decide if she can buy some analgesics [paracetamol, ibuprofen]’.

Dr Dickson also pointed out that ‘the timing of “accidents” and proximity to free supply cannot be foreseen’, and said she supports a far wider availability of the morning-after pill. It’s questions like these, and the fact of England's free morning after pill being nothing but a postcode lottery that lead women to feel like the powers that be are deliberately making it hard for women to get access to a pill that could stop them from, um, needing an abortion. Which aren't exactly easy to come by. 

WATCH: The Debrief Investigates, The Contraceptive Pill And Mental Health 

However, Sandra Gidley, the Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, told BBC 5 Live that these questions are asked because the pill isn’t effective during certain parts of a woman’s cycle, and that ‘Pharmacists have a professional responsibility to make sure it’s being taken appropriately and safely.’

Last month, there was a furore when consumer group SumofUs pointed out that Boots charges almost double the price of its competitors for the morning after pill, because, they explained to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, pretty honestly: 'We would not want to be accused of incentivising use, and provoking complaints.’ Sidenote: Boots sells vibrating cock rings at the recommended retail price.

Anyway, Boots later apologised for ‘our poor choice of words’, insisting, instead, that the reason their morning after pill costs so much more is to cover the price of the the consultation provided to customers.

We’ve always known that the consultation shouldn’t cost more; after all, Boots deliver consultations on far cheaper, price-matched medication, and Superdrug administer similar consultations on the morning after pill at no extra cost. 

But now that head honchos in women’s health are pointing out that these consultations aren’t necessary and potentially stigmatising those who seek simple medication? It just goes to show how we all need to keep the pressure on these pharmacists to make their services a little more user-friendly.

SumofUs wants The Debrief and its readers to know there is still much to be done about this. Sondhya Gupta, Senior Campaigner at SumofUs says: ‘Boots' decision to sell the morning after pill at an inflated price is not only patronising women, it is discriminating against them.  Boots' Chief pharmacist made it clear why the wont follow other retailers’ leads: they don’t think women can be trusted to make their own decisions.’

She added: 'We support experts' calls to make the morning after pill more readily available. No woman has poisoned herself with the morning after pill whereas we see a couple of hundred deaths a year from paracetamol which is freely available on supermarket shelves. This brings into question whether Boots' insistence on a consultation for the morning after pill is based on a medical or moral judgement'

 Find out more about what action can be taken to get Boots to back down at SumOfUs.

As for any other companies’ pharmacists asking intrusive questions? Get talking about it: share your stories with friends (even with us!) and maybe even drop the Department for Women and Equalities or the Women and Equalities Committee a line. After all, politicians could, at the very least, make the pill free at the point of use (like it is in Wales and Scotland...!)

You might also be interested in:

Superdrug Just Halved The Cost Of The Morning After Pill

Ask An Adult: How Does The Morning After Pill Work?

Boots Issue Apology After Morning After Pill Row

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

Tags: Sex, Health