NOTTINGHAM, UK, February 8, 2011 ( – It is “puzzling” that government policy makers are still pushing the morning-after pill (MAP) on young people, when it has done absolutely nothing to reduce teen pregnancies, Professor David Paton told today. In fact, he said, the MAP project seems to be making the situation worse by increasing teen rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Paton is Chairman of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School and the co-author of a study published last week in the Journal of Health Economics, that showed a correlation between increased availability of MAP among young people and a significant jump in rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Under government schemes, the morning-after pill, often called “emergency contraception” despite its proven abortifacient effect, is given free to girls as young as sixteen, often without parents’ knowledge or consent.

Paton told LSN that a lot of research has been done on the effects of widespread use of MAP and the results have been “remarkably consistent.” He said, “Schools are doing this, perhaps without being aware that the evidence is that youngsters in their schools will get pregnant at an early age and it will increase sexually transmitted diseases.”

The same conclusions have been made by “all the papers in this area,” he said. “Everyone agrees it (MAP) does not have the effect of reducing teen pregnancy rates. Not a single paper found a reduction.”

This leaves it an open question why lawmakers are insisting that the MAP is the solution of solutions.

“If I were a health care provider or a member of the local authority with limited resources, I would certainly be questioning whether this is the best use of money when the evidence is universal.”

In 1999, the Labour government under Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to halve the rates of teen pregnancies in the UK, then at an all-time high. That pledge has manifestly failed to materialize, with the most recent available statistics showing a total of 41,325 women under 18 pregnant in 2008, a drop of less than 4 percent since the previous year. This slight downturn followed a steady rise since 2001.

The claim that increased sex education and access to artificial birth control would reduce abortion rates was also belied, with the same statistics showing 49 percent of these pregnancies ending in abortion.

A key aspect of the government’s program of “sexual health education” for young women and girls has been the easy availability of MAP. But this strategy, Paton said, has come with devastating unintended consequences.

Paton’s study, titled “The Impact of Emergency Birth Control on Teen Pregnancy,” compared areas of England where the morning-after pill was being made available to teens free of charge at pharmacies, with areas where the plan had not yet been introduced.

The research found that pregnancy rates for girls under 16 remained the same in both areas, while the rates of sexually transmitted diseases increased by 12 percent in those areas where the pill was made freely available.

“I’ve had lots of responses lots of interest in the study,” Paton told LSN. But it remains to be seen whether this will translate into policy changes.

“Attitudes are quite entrenched in the UK,” he added. “The thinking is that if you provide more sex health services for young people, you will reduce rates.” But the evidence does not support this belief. 

“There’s a gap between concerns of parents and policy implementation.” The real challenge will be to bring the concerns of researchers and parents to government, he said.

The one response Paton has had so far in the week since the study was published was from a pharmaceutical negotiating committee, who “attacked the study and its findings.”

“There is simply no engagement with what we’ve said, with the evidence.”

“You do wonder why the hostility. One research paper doesn’t finalize a conclusion, but more than anywhere else there is the evidence” that MAP does nothing to reduce teen pregnancy. Indeed, with the addition of a higher risk of STDs, he said, the situation is being made significantly worse.

“So it’s very puzzling why policy makers are not keen to take this on board.”

Asked what policy the government ought to adopt, if sex education and artificial contraception don’t work, Paton replied, “The more important thing is to acknowledge what isn’t working and stop doing it.”

“Declare if something isn’t working, and is in fact having negative effects and making the situation worse.”

It should be remembered, he said, that “not insignificant amounts of money” are being spent on these projects. “It’s a clear case of money being used and having, at best, no effect.”


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