A new morning-after pill designed to be taken up to five days after sex has been heavily criticised by pro-life and family values groups.
Critics have warned that the new drug, known as Ellaone, is an “abortive agent” which terminates early-stage pregnancies.
There are also concerns that the five-day pill will encourage casual sexual relationships.
The drug, which was launched in the UK last October, is currently only available on prescription from a doctor; however it could become available over the counter in the next few years.
Made by HRA Pharma UK, Ellaone has been specifically designed to end pregnancies up to five days after sexual intercourse.
An older morning-after pill, Levonelle, is designed to be taken within three days.
Josephine Quintavalle of Pro-Life Alliance said: “If you take a morning-after pill within 24 hours, there is always the argument that the sperm may not have fertilised the egg by then, meaning pregnancy has not yet happened.
“But if this pill works for five days there is no argument. This is not a contraceptive, it is an abortive agent.”
Family values groups have also warned that the new drug will encourage people to engage in casual sex whilst exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases.
Norman Wells, of campaign group Family Education Trust, said: “International research evidence shows that making the morning-after pill more readily available doesn’t make the slightest difference to unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.
“The easy availability of the morning-after pill has a damaging social effect, by lulling young people in particular into a false sense of security, encouraging a more casual attitude to sex, and exposing them to increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.”
His concerns were echoed by Margaret Morrissey, of the campaign group Parents Outloud, who said: “We should be persuading young people not to indulge in sexual relationships. There is already enormous pressure on young girls to have sex and now this pill just adds to it.”
But Tony Fraser, General Manager at HRA Pharma UK, played down their concerns and insisted that Ellaone is just “a very good fall back when things go wrong”.
When the morning-after pill was first approved for use in the UK, it was for ‘exceptional circumstances’ and available only with a prescription from a doctor.
But today the morning-after pill is increasingly available over the counter in pharmacies and online.
Currently pharmacists in the UK are able to opt out of giving the morning-after pill on religious or moral grounds.
But earlier this month it was revealed that the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence is running a consultation that includes a question about scrapping this freedom of conscience.
Such a change could see Christian pharmacists forced to provide the morning-after pill or risk losing their jobs.
Last April the first television advert for the morning-after pill was screened on several channels including ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.