Boots has been accused of refusing to cut the cost of one of its morning-after pills for fear of criticism from campaigners.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which provides abortion care, wants Boots and other pharmacies to reduce the cost of emergency contraception Levonelle.
Boots told the BPAS it wanted to avoid “incentivising inappropriate use”.
The company said it was “disappointed by the focus” BPAS had taken.
Currently, the progestogen-based drug Levonelle costs 28.25 in Boots, and its non-branded equivalent is 26.75.
But the branded drug costs 13.50 at Tesco and a generic version is 13.49 in Superdrug.
However, Superdrug charges 27 for Levonelle and 35 for an alternative emergency contraceptive pill, EllaOne.
BPAS lobbied Boots to reduce the cost of the pill to make it more accessible for women having difficulty getting the drug quickly on the NHS.
Clare Murphy, BPAS director of external affairs, said: “Most people believe women should be able to access emergency contraception from pharmacies at an affordable price.”
But the chief pharmacist at Boots UK, Marc Donovan, said: “In our experience, the subject of [emergency hormonal contraception] polarises public opinion and we receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that [Boots] chooses to provide this service.
“We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.”
He added that the chemist wanted to avoid the pill “being misused or overused”.
MP Yvette Cooper told Boots on Twitter: “This is patronising and pathetic – keeping emergency contraception price too high cos you don’t trust women and are scared of critics.”
When asked to explain their stance, Boots released a statement saying the price of emergency contraception included “a professional healthcare consultation”.
It said: “This consultation helps support customers in their choice by examining an individual’s full medical history and any potential drug interactions.”
Sandra Gidley, chair of Royal Pharmaceutical Society England, said it wanted to see all community pharmacies in England supplying emergency contraception free through the NHS.
“NHS emergency contraception services have been available free through pharmacies in Scotland and Wales for some time and we would like to see that replicated across the whole of the country so women get better access, regardless of their ability to pay.”
The morning after pill can be taken in the days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.
In England, Levonelle and EllaOne are free of charge from most sexual health clinics, most GP surgeries and most NHS walk-in centres or urgent care centres – but they are free only to women in certain age groups from pharmacies in some parts of the country.
In Scotland and Wales, the emergency contraceptive pill is available free of charge on the NHS from pharmacies, GPs and sexual health clinics.
In Northern Ireland, some pharmacies allow it to be bought on the NHS, and it is available free of charge from sexual health clinics and GPs.
Read more here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk