Women's Healthcare

Boots Sent Its Lawyers After the Charity Campaigning for a Cheaper Morning After Pill

Before lowering the price of its emergency contraception, the retailer sent women’s healthcare charity bpas a legal warning.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
September 1, 2017, 7:00am
Morning after pill (Photo by author)

It's been six weeks since Boots responded to public pressure over the unnecessarily high price of their emergency contraception. After campaigning from British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), Superdrug and Tesco cut their prices by about half. Instead of following suit, Boots said in a statement that the morning after pill was free in the "vast majority" of branches, and implied there was a possibility that women could misuse or overuse emergency contraception were it more accessible. Or rather, they didn't want to be seen to be ""incentivising inappropriate use".

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The backlash Boots received for implying that women aren't to be trusted with their own bodies was significant. The company issued a formal apology for offending people with its moralising. Public opinion was so strongly against Boots that it seemed they would be forced to review their prices and lay low with their tail between their legs.

Instead, Boots has hired the huge celebrity law firm, Schillings, to issue a legal warning against the charity. This is an independent woman's healthcare charity – one that has been advocating and caring for women who are considering an abortion for over 50 years – operating in a landscape in which women's health has historically been dismissed and sidelined.

According to a bpas statement released this morning, Boots has accused bpas of harassing senior Boots executives after it set up a direct email widget with a basic template for members of the public to quickly and easily implore the chain to lower the price of their emergency contraception. In their letter, Boots accused bpas of the "facilitation and tacit encouragement of personal abuse" that "caused immense personal distress" to senior Boots executives, including Managing Director Elizabeth Fagan and Chief Pharmacist Marc Donovan. The "torrent of personal abuse" against employees allegedly came from members of the public via social media and emails.

Boots, as of yet, has failed to provide evidence of this abuse. The thousands of emails directly sent through the campaign simply described a need for emergency contraception due to rape or a missed pill, or stressed the difficulty in accessing it.

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The letter also demanded bpas ceases their campaign in its current form.

Bpas told VICE: "We were quite frankly shocked that Boots decided to send bpas a legal warning in response to our campaign for affordable emergency contraception. We were also just incredibly angry to see the complaints and concerns of thousands of members of the public being mischaracterised by Boots as abuse. These emails included personal accounts from women who missed meals to afford emergency contraception, women who described the difficulties of buying this medication after being raped, pharmacists who saw women in floods of tears on hearing of the price. That Boots could read these emails and feel the appropriate response was to hire celebrity reputation consultants is shameful."

On the same day bpas contacted VICE, the 31st of August, Boots sent out a press release stating that they are rolling out a new generic version of Levonelle, the emergency contraceptive, at a cost of £15.99. This is almost comparable to Superdrug and Tesco's reduced prices of £13.49 and £13.50, and certainly a marked difference from its previous prices: £28.25 for Levonelle emergency contraceptive and £26.75 for its own generic version. Boots has subsequently contacted bpas telling them to withdraw this legal action story.

Clearly, Boots has bowed to public pressure from women after all. In its release it says the company is committed to listening to customers. But it seems unnecessary, offensive and harmful to women's health for a mammoth retailer to throw its weight at a small charity which literally campaigns to aid women with their healthcare, in order to clear up a PR mess that Boots caused for itself. Ultimately, Boots continues to inadvertently present itself as a company lacking in regard for women's health and wellbeing.

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@hannahrosewens

More on morning after pill:

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Why Everyone Should Care That the Morning After Pill Isn't Free

Boots Are Refusing to Make Their Morning After Pill Cheaper