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BIG DEBATE: Should we let teenage girls stock-up on ‘morning after’ pill?

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 May 2014 | UPDATED: 10:14 22 May 2014

Taking the pill

Taking the pill

PA Archive/Press Association Images free use

New NHS guidance for GPs and chemists says youngsters under 25—including schoolgirls under 16—should be able to get the ‘morning after’ contraceptive pill before sex. It would mean teenage girls could stock-up on the drugs, despite government fears it would increase promiscuity. The guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has drawn a backlash from parents worried about their children’s safety and about losing control of their family’s sex education:

" We need to help young people make responsible decisions about their contraception"

Penny Barber, Brook sexual health charity

Penny Barber, a director of the Brook sexual health charity, explains why it is important girls take control of their sexuality while protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancy:

A panel of experts was asked by Nice, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, to update the guidance on contraceptive services for under 25s. Sounds quite routine, doesn’t it?

Well, it should have been a straightforward exercise. But when the guidance was published, the media focused on one small part of the document—where it was recommended that young women be allowed to keep a supply of emergency hormonal contraception at home—and accused Nice of encouraging young girls to stockpile the ‘morning after’ pill.

As one of the people who helped to develop the guidance, I found the newspaper frenzy discouraging. Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe—it is better all round to reduce unintended teenage pregnancy rates.

"Parents are excluded from their children’s lives at a time when they are most vulnerable"

Antonia Tully, Safety at School campaign

Yet the rate of teenage pregnancy is at its lowest since 1969.

The government introduced the 10-year Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in 1998, which has been successful.

Newham’s teenage pregnancy rate that year, for example, was almost 60 in every 1,000 girls under 18. By 2012, this fell to just 24 per 1,000, down by 60 per cent.

The contraception needs to be taken as soon as possible after sex and is only effective if taken within a limited time. It is not good enough for a pharmacy or GP to sometimes provide it or sometimes not, depending on who is working that day.

Young people seeking help frequently report being sent from one place to another, and staff being unhelpful.

If we’re serious about reducing rates of teenage pregnancy even further, this situation must be improved.

It is time we all grew up a bit and realised that, as the guidelines set out, we need to help young people make responsible decisions about their fertility and their contraception needs.

All young people deserve a wide choice of contraception—and that should include the ‘morning after’ pill.

Penny Barber [left] says YES... Anrtonia Tully says NOPenny Barber [left] says YES... Anrtonia Tully says NO

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But Antonia Tully, national campaigner for Safety at School campaign which upholds parents’ rights over sex education, disagrees and feels parents are being sidelined just when their kids need them:

A few months ago I was told that my 13-year-old daughter couldn’t collect a pair of glasses from the optician without being accompanied by an adult.

Yet this same girl could be given the ‘morning after’ pill by a school nurse or a pharmacist—no presciption needed for this powerful hormonal drug—without me knowing anything about it. What sort of madness is this?

Well, this is the new guidance for schools and GPs from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, in an attempt to reduce teenage pregnancies. But there’s nothing healthy, caring or excellent about this proposal.

I want to shout from the rooftops: Giving teenage girls contraception doesn’t stop them getting pregnant.

The Family Planning Association has repeatedly claimed over many years that access to contraception and ‘morning after’ pills for teenagers reduces teenage pregnancies. But there’s no convincing evidence this works in practice.

The guidance says teenage girls can stockpile the ‘morning after’ pill. This is saying to them: “Have as much sex as you want—you’ve got plenty of pills handy!”

What are the long-term effects on teenage girls taking hormonal drugs as casually as taking a paracetamol?

Parents are systematically undermined in their children’s sexual development and sidelined from sex education at school. The cult of confidentiality or secrecy for teenagers, promoted by the NHS and organisations like Brook, means parents are excluded from their children’s lives at a time when they are most vulnerable to pressure from friends and the media.

Girls need their mums to support them during the difficult teenage years—not an anonymous pharmacist.

The ‘morning after’ pill is not a loving response to a teenage girl caught up in the frenzy to have sex and worried sick she might be pregnant.


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