Girls as young as 13 on the Isle of Wight may be given a month’s supply of contraceptive pills without being referred to a doctor or informing their parents, under a divisive new scheme.
The programme will target girls who are seeking a morning-after pill from a participating pharmacy, indicating that they are already sexually active.
But critics say parents are being sidelined and teens will be left vulnerable to STIs by the scheme.
The programme’s aim is to reduce the island’s teenage pregnancy rate but critics say the ‘ever-more-contraception’ approach does not work.
Local Conservative MP Andrew Turner criticised the scheme, saying: “I will be making my concern clear to the people who run the health service and they’ve got to understand that many people feel the same.” He commented: “Underage sex is illegal and dangerous.”
Antonia Tully, from the Safe at School campaign group, called the Isle of Wight programme “sad and misguided”.
She said: “It’s sad because it is sexualising young teenagers and priming them for premature sex. It’s misguided because over the last 10 years more than £200 million of taxpayers’ money been spent on initiatives like this in England and Wales and have failed to have any benefit.
“Many more teenagers now have sexually-transmitted diseases, and registered abortions have continued at the same high level. The number of teenage births have declined slightly, but nowhere near the 50 per cent target.
“This result suggests that schemes like this encourage illegal under age sex, and expose more young people to risk.”
Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “Cutting parents out of the equation is not the answer. Studies show that children whose parents are involved in their lives are less likely to engage in premature sexual activity.
“Doling out contraceptive pills like sweeties will do nothing to protect girls from the soaring STI rate, and sterilising girls will only help boys put more pressure on them for sex.
“This scheme sends out a truly depressing message of low expectations to our teenage girls, rather than inspiring them to delay sex until they are at least older.”
Revd Anthony Glaysher, a Roman Catholic priest from the Portsmouth diocese, said the scheme “fundamentally attacked the family”.
The programme involves a third of the island’s 30 pharmacies, and will give out a progesterone-only contraception pill.
Prof David Paton of Nottingham University says easier access to contraception may lead to a false sense of security, increasing risk-taking behaviour amongst young people.
Last year Prof Paton criticised the previous Labour Government’s approach to cutting teen pregnancies, saying: “There has been a tendency for the Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy to focus on creating schemes where teenagers can get the morning-after pill or other forms of family planning at school or clinics.
“The danger with this sort of approach is that it can lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour amongst some young people.
“There is now overwhelming evidence that such schemes are simply not effective in cutting teenage pregnancy rates.”
Last month it was announced that a controversial teen pregnancy quango was to be axed.
The Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group (TPIAG), which claimed last year that frank discussions of sexual pleasure should play a key role in attempts to reduce teenage pregnancy, is to be closed down at the end of this year.
Another quango to be scrapped is a sexual health and HIV group, which was criticised for being “wedded” to the idea that Britain’s teenage pregnancy crisis could be addressed with more sex education, more contraception and more abortion.