Teenage girls should be allowed to stockpile the morning-after pill – which can cause an early stage abortion – under new guidance for the NHS.
But critics say the recommendation will promote “promiscuity”.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also says teenagers should have free and easy access to condoms in places such as “schools, colleges and youth clubs”.
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said the guidance is “really worrying and deeply unwise”.
And Roger Goss, from Patient Concern, said: “It seems like a way of promoting promiscuity.”
Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust said: “It is all part of a mix encouraging them to take a more casual attitude to sex and exposing them to increased risk of sexually transmitted infections and emotional harm.”
The NICE guidance also recommended that school nurses and pharmacists be able to dispense the morning-after pill free of charge.
This would give women access to the morning-after pill in bulk on the NHS for the first time.
NICE recommended the move four years ago, but the Department of Health said it is “better to use a regular method of contraception” and did not implement the proposal.
Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE dismissed the concerns about stockpiling, saying girls would only be allowed the morning-after pill in advance if they were using contraception with a high “user failure” rate.
He also said: “Evidence clearly shows that the availability of contraception reduces the rate of unwanted pregnancies.”
The guidance focuses on ensuring young people receive “culturally sensitive” and “non-judgemental” advice and support, he explained.
But research from the US last year found that offering the morning-after pill in bulk is a risky strategy.
Professor James Trussell, of Princeton University, told the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that women with access to the morning-after pill were more likely to have unprotected sex, as they regarded it as a safety net.