Welsh pharmacies have become the first in the UK to offer the morning-after pill (MAP) free of charge over the counter.
And pharmacists will be allowed to give the MAP to under-16s if they believe it is “clinically appropriate”.
The controversial move has come in for strong criticism, being labelled as “ill-thought out”, “knee-jerk” and meaning that girls will become “even less responsible about sexuality”.
The morning-after pill can cause an early stage abortion.
Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship, criticised the move as being “underpinned by the dangerous assumption that there is no right or wrong in teenage sexual activity – just choice”.
He continued: “This assumption has led to a values-free framework in which the rate of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease amongst teenagers is the highest in Europe.”
He added: “This latest move is sadly yet another unfortunate, ill-thought out knee-jerk government response to Britain’s spiraling epidemic of unplanned pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted disease amongst teenagers and will only make matters worse.”
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “It’s absolutely the wrong way to address the problems of high rates of teenage pregnancy in Wales. The idea that young girls can just walk into a chemist will mean they become even less responsible about sexuality.”
The change will initially affect 700 pharmacies but will gradually lead to the MAP becoming available at all pharmacies and supermarkets across Wales.
In the rest of the UK the MAP is free from some sexual health clinics, as well as on prescription from a GP, but Wales is the first place in the UK to offer it free of charge on the high street.
In recent research studying England, Professor David Paton and Professor Sourafel Girma found that handing out free MAPs to teenage girls did nothing to reduce teen pregnancies and may have led to diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) going up.
Increased and easier access to the MAP was a key part of the previous Labour Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.
The professors’ 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.
In November last year the Welsh Assembly Government announced that primary schools in Wales would not be forced to teach sex and relationship education (SRE) if they did not want to.
But at the same time it was set to inject yet more funding into its controversial sexual health programme.
In 2009 the Assembly held a public consultation on SRE for primary schools, raising concerns that they were intending to make the subject compulsory for children as young as five.
But after much public opposition ministers reaffirmed that SRE was not compulsory for primary schools.