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Opinion, Comment & Reviews
  Schering launches new Emergency Contraceptive Pill
By Ellie Lee

A new Emergency Contraceptive Pill was launched today by Schering Health care Ltd. Called Levonelle-2, the new ECP should have a higher success rate and reduced side-effects.

Schering already makes a 'combination'emergency contraceptive pill, PC4. This ECP combines the two hormones oestrogen and progestogen. Levonelle-2 is a single-hormone product, and so should have less side-effects like vomiting and sickness, say Schering. Levonelle-2 also involves only two pills unlike the previous four, one to be taken immediately and the second 12 hours later.

Predictably, opposition to Levonelle-2 was voiced by 'pro-family' campaigners. Valerie Riches of Family and Youth Concern said: 'These emergency contraceptives promote a lack of meaningful relationships in the young and promote promiscuity and will cause the spread of more sexually transmitted diseases.' Mrs Riches dismissed claims that Levonelle-2 was safer for women as a 'false argument'. She added:'The only way to stop unwanted pregnancies is to teach the younger people the need to have timely and protected sexual intercourse in loving relationships.'

In contrast, medical professionals and those involved with providing contraceptive services to women welcomed the new ECP. Diana Mansour, consultant in community gynaecology and reproductive healthcare at Newcastle General Hospital said: 'Today's launch is a very welcome one as we can now offer women a more reliable emergency contraceptive that causes less nausea and vomiting and is much simpler to take than the existing oral method.' BPAS, Britain's largest provider of abortion care also welcomed the introduction of Levonelle 2.

For the time being, Levonelle 2 will only be available on prescription. However, many voices have been calling for the introduction of over-the-counter provision of ECP's in pharmacists.

Ann Furedi, director of communications said: 'There was a clinical consensus that the old combined emergency contraceptive pill could safely be provided without prescription. Levonelle 2 is even safer and so pharmacy provision of emergency contraception has never made more sense. Dr Jenny Tonge, MP for Richmond Park and a former family planning doctor commented: 'We must get the Government to allow women to control their own lives and be able to obtain these emergency contraceptive pills immediately after unprotected sex, so that the level of unwanted pregnancies in this country can be reduced. I hope very much that the new pill will soon be licensed to be dispensed by local pharmacists, over the counter.' Toni Belfield, speaking for the fpa also backed plans to make the emergency contraceptive pill available in pharmacies. She said: 'We believe that increasing access to EC through pharmacies will help prevent unplanned pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions.'

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, Polly Toynbee argued: 'This new progestogen-only pill has no side effects, no nausea and is no stronger than the contraceptive pills women used to take every day....there is no medical reason why a woman shouldn't take one frequently. There is no reason why any woman shouldn't keep one at home in case of emergency. No reason why women of any age shouldn't buy them over the counter or from slot machines - like condoms.'

Support was also forthcoming from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain for this kind of provision of ECPs. Christine Glover, President of the Society said: 'We welcome the availability on prescription of the first progestogen-only emergency contraceptive, which we are confident will make an important contribution to the prevention of unplanned pregnancy. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is working now to ensure that pharmacists have the training and information they need to supply emergency contraception without a prescription in future. We know that our profession wants to be involved in the important public health issue of sexual health and contraceptive care. Our Code of Ethics allows pharmacists to follow their own conscience in such matters, whilst ensuring that patients have access to pharmaceutical services.'

The Guardian, 2 February 2000
Daily Telegraph, 2 February 2000
PA NewsFile, 2 February 2000
BBC News on-line, 2 February 2000
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