CARDIFF, April 1, 2011 ( – Recent legal changes in Britain have made the hormonal drug the Morning After Pill (MAP) free to women across the UK with a prescription. The health department of Wales, however, is going one further. Starting today, the MAP will be available free of charge, even to under-age girls, in over 700 Welsh chemists without a prescription. And the plan is to expand the service into all pharmacies in the province, including those in supermarkets.

According to new rules, pharmacists will be allowed to decide whether it is “clinically appropriate” to dispense the drug to girls under 16 without the supervision of a physician and, according to existing rules, without informing parents. This despite the fact that the age of legal consent for sex in Britain is 16.

Welsh Assembly Health minister Edwina Hart, a Labour party MP, is behind the change. Hart announced last November that she wanted to see the MAP available without a doctor’s appointment and “easily accessible within the 72-hour time span necessary for emergency contraception to be most effective.”

But campaigners have warned that the move will only exacerbate an already bad situation. Wales has one of the highest rates of underage pregnancy in Europe.

Josephine Quintavalle, founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core), said it would encourage “irresponsible” attitudes to sex. She told BBC Wales, “It’s absolutely the wrong way to address the problems of high rates of teenage pregnancy in Wales. The idea that young girls can just walk into a chemist will mean they become even less responsible about sexuality.”

“I don’t see how any chemist can stop a 12-year-old taking the morning after pill. Some 12-year-olds do look like 16-year-olds these days,” she added.

Anthony Ozimic, SPUC communications manager was even more blunt, saying the decision is a direct threat to public health. He said that the drug regimen’s little talked-about abortifacient effect, “threatens unborn children” and that recent widening of its availability has shown that it “promotes promiscuity.”

“Such promotion has an adverse effect on many young and vulnerable women,” Ozimic said. “It encourages men to see young women as sex objects, who can be exploited without responsibility for the consequences.”

He cited the recent massive increases in sexually transmitted diseases among young women, saying that “greater reliance on morning-after pills” may be partly to blame.

Since the mid-1990s, the MAP, called “emergency contraception” despite its partial abortifacient effect, has been pushed aggressively in the medical community throughout the western world. The MAP’s international promoters have focused their attention on changing legislation and practice guidelines to allow it to be distributed without prescriptions or supervision by doctors.

In recent years, it has become especially popular in Britain, where government agencies have pushed it in response to the escalating crisis of the country’s teenage pregnancy rate. However, some have observed that in Britain the MAP is a contributing factor in the eroding of the country’s social mores, with some women reporting that they “stock up” on the drug. Keeping a “supply” of MAP at home has been recommended by abortion-promoting organizations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Marie Stopes.

A recent Co-Operative Pharmacy survey of 3000 people found that 20 percent of women aged 18 to 35 took the “emergency contraceptive” pill last year. The same poll found that the same group of women had engaged in intercourse while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. One in fifty 18-21-year-olds said they used the MAP as their normal form of contraception. At the same time, one sixth of the women surveyed said they had contracted a sexually transmitted disease.