The High Court today rejected a bid by an anti–abortion group to prevent pharmacies from selling the "morning–after" pill without a doctor's prescription.v
The High Court today rejected a bid by an anti–abortion group to prevent pharmacies from selling the "morning–after" pill without a doctor's prescription.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children had challenged government legislation which allows pharmacists to dispense the emergency contraception over the counter.
The society argued that the pill effectively caused an abortion, and so could only be administered in line with safeguards under the Abortion Act. It said that allowing pharmacists to sell the pill amounted to "procuring a miscarriage," which is a criminal offence.
The morning–after pill can prevent ovulation or fertilisation when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Judge James Munby rejected the society's application for a judicial review. He called its legal argument "erroneous" and stressed the importance of individual choice.
"In my judgment the prescription, supply, administration or use of the morning–after pill does not, cannot, involve the commission of any offense," the judge said.
He said it would be "grievously wrong" for a judge "to hold that what thousands, hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of ordinary, honest, law abiding citizens" have done regularly for years is a criminal offense.
He said the society's allegations of criminality did not only concern the morning–after pill but also "any form of birth control which may have the effect of discouraging a fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the womb."
The Family Planning Association welcomed the ruling and said common sense had prevailed. "This judicial review was a vexatious attack on women's reproductive rights and a dreadful waste of public and private time and money," chief executive Anne Weyman said.
The society condemned the ruling, and said the judge's reasoning was flawed. "It is a sorry day for justice when the courts fail to protect unborn life at its most vulnerable," said general secretary Paul Tully.
He indicated the society would appeal against the ruling.