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BPAS comment on emergency contraception figures

The provision of emergency contraception via sexual health clinics has fallen younger women particularly sharply, with provision to under 16s down 74% in the last ten years. This may be a reflection of lifestyle trends among that age group. Our research has found that teenagers' patterns of social interaction - often with their families, often online, combined with lower levels of alcohol intake - may be impacting on their likelihood of engaging in sexual activity, and therefore their need to access emergency contraception. Our research also reveals that this is a generation who are focused on their education, aware of economic challenges but determined to succeed regardless, and that they place significant value on responsibility and maturity, particularly when it comes to alcohol consumption and sex. These broader lifestyle shifts may be a significant factor in the decline in emergency contraception being provided via family planning clinics to younger women.

However, the decline in provision of emergency contraception also reflects the barriers women face when trying to access this important back-up method. At sexual and reproductive healthcare services, the number of emergency contraception items provided in 2019/20 was 78,000. This is 14% less than in 2018/19 and a fall of 45% from 2009/10. It's no coincidence that this decrease has accompanied deep funding cuts, which have slashed contraception spending power. Furthermore, the obstacles to accessing emergency contraception at pharmacies have also increased during the pandemic, with data showing that that sales fell by 50% this year from March to April as the UK went into lockdown. Research by BPAS has shown that the mandatory, clinically unnecessary consultation required to buy emergency contraception in community pharmacies is a real barrier to access, especially at a time when we are all trying to socially distance. Taken together these figures present a truly worrying picture of EC provision, suggesting that women are finding it harder and harder to obtain. We urgently need action to rectify this. Allowing emergency contraception to be sold off the pharmacy shelf, as already happens in the USA, France and many other countries, would be a safe strategy to facilitate women's access to this essential medication, affording them a crucial second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

ENDS

For further information please contact BPAS on press@bpas.org or 07788 725185

About BPAS

BPAS is a charity which sees almost 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here: https://www.bpas.org/get-involved/centre-for-reproductive-research-communication/

BPAS intends to launch a not-for-profit fertility service in Spring 2021, to provide ethical, evidence based, person-centred care that supports patients. We intend to only charge what it costs to provide a safe, high-quality, and accessible service to patients who may be unable to access NHS funded care.