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Opinion, Comment & Reviews
  Advance prescribing emergency contraception
By Maxine Lattimer

On 8 July, BPAS launched a new scheme to provide women with emergency contraception before the emergency. Women will now be able to book appointments at BPAS centres, and after consultation with medical staff, obtain emergency contraception in advance of sex.

BPAS spokeswoman Ann Furedi said: ``Women know about the morning-after pill but are not using it. We think the problem is that many women have problems making appointments to get it. We think women are far more likely to use emergency contraception if they have it to hand. We are concerned about unwanted pregnancies, and emergency contraception has a part to play because it gives women a second chance."

Part of the reason BPAS launched the scheme is findings of research carried out by the World Health Organisation which showed the morning-after pill was more effective if taken within 12 hours of having unprotected sex. Ian Jones, chief executive of BPAS, said that although emergency contraception works for 72 hours after having unprotected sex, it is 50 per cent more effective if taken within the first 12 hours. ``Emergency contraception is not a mini abortion but prevents pregnancy in the same way the combined pill does,'' he said.

Some media coverage of the scheme failed to highlight the benefits advance prescribing can bring for women with busy lives, choosing instead to focus on contraception and teenagers. The main beneficiaries of the scheme are in fact likely to be older. Since many women, particularly working women, find getting an appointment to see their GP that quickly difficult, the BPAS scheme means that emergency contraception can nevertheless be easily accessible to them.

Predictably, critics of the scheme associated with pro-life organisations responded by suggesting that advance prescribing would encourage women to have unprotected sex. However, a recent study carried out in Scotland showed that if women were given emergency contraceptives to keep at home they used them sensibly, and did not stop using their usual method of contraception. The number of unwanted pregnancies were also reduced. Ann Furedi rejected criticisms the service could encourage women to have unprotected sex. She said: ``If you have a fire extinguisher in your home nobody argues that it causes you to set your house on fire. The fact people have access to emergency contraception doesn't cause people to have unprotected sex.''

The BPAS has a network of 40 clinics around Britain. It's action line is on 08457 304030.
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