Judge upholds the right of women to morning-after pill

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The Independent Online

Anti-abortion campaigners lost their High Court challenge to the over-the-counter sale of the "morning after" pill but vowed to appeal against yesterday's judgment.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children had argued that dispensing emergency contraception without a doctor's prescription was illegal because it amounted to "procuring a miscarriage", which is a criminal offence under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

But Mr Justice Munby, sitting in the High Court in London, dismissed its claim and refused the society's application for a declaration that the Secretary of State for Health acted outside his powers by introducing the legislation that permitted the sale of the "morning after" pill without a prescription.

Family planning experts feared that, if the challenge had been successful, it could have thrown family planning into confusion and made criminals of hundreds of thousands of women who seek emergency contraception.

But speaking after the ruling Paul Tully, the society's general secretary, said: "We want to see today's judgment challenged in the Court of Appeal, and before the bar of public opinion. Our campaign to inform the public about the truth of how the 'morning after' pill works will continue."

He added: "It is a sorry day for justice when the courts fail to protect unborn life at its most vulnerable. One of our key objectives in bringing this case has been to stop the systematic deception of women who have been told that the 'morning after' pill is simply a contraceptive. What the Government, the drug company and the pro-abortion lobby have not been able to deny is that the early developing human embryo is killed by this drug."

In a 398-paragraph judgment, Mr Justice Munby said the responsibility for contraception was firmly a matter of individual choice.

The Government's responsibility was to ensure "the medical and pharmaceutical safety of products offered in the market place and the appropriate provision of suitable guidance and advice".

The judge said: "Beyond that, as it seems to me, in this as in other areas of medical ethics, respect for the personal autonomy which our law has now come to recognise demands that the choice be left to the individual."

He said that decisions on "intensely private and personal matters" such as those involving contraception ought to be left to the "free choice of the individual". The judge said he could not help thinking that such personal choice was part of that "respect for private and family life" protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the British Medical Association's head of science and ethics, said: "Emergency contraception is safe and effective and used by thousands of women every year who want to act responsibly and avoid an unwanted pregnancy."

Marshall Davies, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, commented: "This landmark judgment endorses the right of woman to make their own choices about their method of contraception.

"It is also an important recognition of the professionalism of pharmacists who will now continue to provide a highly valuable service to women in need of emergency contraception."