The rules banning girls under 16 from buying the morning-after pill are to be lifted after a change in drug licensing rules.

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Girls previously had to be 16, and the pharmacist would interview them to make sure they were old enough, or they could be prescribed the pill. Now they will be able to ask for a drug that’s effective for five days after unprotected sex called ellaOne at any pharmacy choosing to stock it.

Latest yearly figures show that the UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe, with over half of the 24,306 pregnancies reported in under-18s resulting in abortion, The Guardian reported.

“It’s important that we look at these things pragmatically and realistically,” said Tony Fraser, general manager of HRA Pharma, which makes the pill in the UK and Ireland. “Girls don’t go to the pharmacy unless something has happened and they need care.”

While the move aims to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, it has not been met with resounding support.

“The availability of the morning-after pill is encouraging some adolescents to engage in casual sex when they might not otherwise have done so,” said Family Education Trust director Norman Wells, “and the supply of emergency birth control to young people is associated with an increase in sexually transmitted infections.”

Pharmacists will still ask girls if they understand the consequences of unprotected sex and the effects of taking the pill, as outlined by the “Gillick competency” guidelines. The pill will cost 34.95.

Abigail Fitzgibbon of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service told The Guardian:

Taking emergency contraception is a mature, responsible decision – yet women are faced with a multitude of barriers. In our experience, the high cost, lack of access and embarrassment women face when buying emergency contraception deter many from trying to get it at all, and these obstacles can be even more difficult to negotiate for younger women.

Once contraception has failed, or a couple have had unprotected sex, emergency contraception is the only effective way to prevent unplanned pregnancy. We welcome moves to make emergency contraception more accessible, but in order to make a real difference, we need to stop stigmatising the women who take it, and it needs to be regulated in exactly the same way as any other method of contraception: not priced out of reach or a symbol of shame.

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