Women in the UK can now get free contraceptive pills from pharmacies. In a scheme that’s being phased in, women in Northwest England will be first to obtain a free pill prescription without a doctor’s appointment from next month (Dec ‘23). As more pharmacies gradually sign up for the service, millions of women throughout the UK will benefit into the New Year.
The measures have been long-needed.
Back in November 2017, a report uncovered how ‘women in the UK [were] struggling to access basic contraception’. The study illuminated that 16% of women found themselves waiting over two weeks for a birth control appointment, with 27% feeling their options were not fully explained by medical professionals. This may be due to the NHS limiting doctor appointments to ten minutes, which many have found ineffective.
The report’s findings ring true. It uncovered hurdles to contraception that drive reliance on the morning-after pill, and this opens another can of worms. Throughout the year that the study reported on (2017), one contentious issue was the price of the morning-after pill: then retailing at six times the French price. UK Pharmacy Boots was criticised for selling the ‘MA Pill’ for £26:75, and later accused of ‘straight up misogyny’ for refusing to reduce the price following criticism.
The high cost of emergency contraception can be explained by the wider culture of charging women more for health and personal care items and services. Not only does the wellness industry mainly profit off women, the so-called ‘pink tax’ means that women pay more for personal care items: 11% more than men for razors alone.
Retailers responded to the criticism of the morning after pill price. Boots’ rival, Superdrug, began selling ‘half price’ emergency contraception. A few years later, Hana was launched. The progesterone-only contraceptive became available over the counter. While it was good that those companies began providing women with more convenient options, this was not done out of compassion, but for profit and to compete in the market. Just like other ‘pink tax’ items.
Thinking of women’s healthcare items as a luxury and not a necessity has extended to how we think about women’s healthcare and wellbeing. Free contraceptive pills are a good start. But there’s a long way to go in the fight for healthcare freedom.