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Emergency contraception: lessons learned from the UK
  1. Katie D Schenk, MSc, DLSHTM
  1. Reproductive Health Alliance, London, UK
  1. Correspondence/Current Affiliation Ms K D Schenk, Horizons/Population Council, 4301 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 280, Washington DC 20008, USA. Tel: +1 202 237 9431. Fax: +1 202 237 8410. E-mail: kschenk{at}


Context Since January 2001, women aged over 16 years in the UK have been able to purchase progestogen-only emergency hormonal contraception from pharmacists without prescription. This paper outlines the context in which these changes took place, including contraceptive choices in the UK, changes within the pharmacy profession and political pressures.

Observations We chart the multisectoral developments required to make emergency contraception (EC) available without prescription in the UK, from clinical research findings and results on the views and behaviour of health care professionals and users of EC, through to professional and policy developments, including challenges during and after this process.

Discussion Lessons learnt from the innovative experience of the deregulation of EC in the UK apply to other regions currently considering similar change. We extrapolate internationally applicable lessons including the importance of stakeholder partnership, transparency and cautious pace of change, and the vital role of professional groups.

Conclusion Although this change brought a new element of reproductive choice to some women, significant barriers to access to EC still remain for young women and women unable to afford the high price (£24/€37/$39) of pharmacy purchase in the UK.

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