Free morning-after pills fail to cut teen pregnancies

Handing out free morning-after pills (MAPs) to teenage girls did nothing to reduce teen pregnancies and may have led to diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) going up, a report has said.

Increased and easier access to the MAP was a key part of the previous Labour Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.

Now, in a report available online from the Journal of Health Economics, authors Professor David Paton and Professor Sourafel Girma have hit out at the policy.


Their study compared areas of England where the programme was introduced with others that either declined to provide the morning-after pill for free, or did so at a later date.

The study found that rates of pregnancy among teenage girls remained the same, but STI diagnoses increased by five per cent in areas where the MAP was available for free.

The morning-after pill can cause an early stage abortion.


Prof Paton said the study found that offering “the morning-after pill free of charge didn’t have the intended effect of cutting teenage pregnancies but did have the unfortunate side effect of increasing sexually transmitted infections”.

He also said because the study had focused on STIs, it allowed the authors to “test whether there is an impact on sexual risk-taking, and that seems to be the implication”.

The study’s findings were welcomed by Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, who said: “International research has consistently failed to find any evidence that emergency birth control schemes achieve a reduction in teenage conception and abortion rates.

“But now we have evidence showing that not only are such schemes failing to do any good, but they may in fact be doing harm.”


A Daily Mail editorial questioned whether it was a surprise that “distributing contraceptives and abortion tablets like Smarties serves only to encourage promiscuity among those too young to cope with its consequences”.

Conservative MP Julian Brazier criticised Labour’s “health establishment” for trying to find “mechanical solutions to problems which need moral solutions”.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We have one of the worst teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates in Western Europe.

“We need a bold new approach to tackling these issues because so many of the lifestyle driven health problems are already at alarming levels. That is why the Government wasted no time in publishing a strategy for public health.”

‘Sexual rights’

The Labour Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy aimed to cut the teenage pregnancy rate by 50 per cent in the years between 1998 and 2010.

However, last year, figures for 2008 showed that the teen pregnancy rate had only dropped by 13.3 per cent over the ten years from 1998.

In 2010 a national newspaper columnist and a University professor said pandering to the ‘sexual rights’ of children to combat teen pregnancies did not work in the past and will not work in the future.

Dished out

Brenda Almond, an Emeritus Professor at the University of Hull, highlighted family breakdown as a key factor in the rise of teen pregnancies.

The Daily Mail’s Jan Moir said children should be told that any early sex is “just plain wrong”.

Prof Almond, writing in the Daily Mail, said the idea of young people’s ‘sexual rights’ could be “the new secular religion of our times”.

She criticised the previous Government for carrying on with the same policies to tackle teen pregnancy, saying, “instead of accepting its mistake and trying a different approach, the Government continues to cling to its discredited strategy of dishing out sex advice, pills and condoms”.

Related Resources