We can't stop campaigning until the contraceptive pill is free, cuts to sexual health services have been reversed and abortion made free safe and legal.
Last week, Boots the UK’s largest high street chemist, apologised after refusing to lower the cost of an emergency contraceptive because it didn’t want to “incentivise inappropriate use”.
The apology came after the Women’s Equality Party joined forces with BPAS, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, calling for the company to lower the cost of the drug Levonelle.
From day one, protecting women’s reproductive rights has been a core objective of the Women’s Equality Party.
If you are denied control over your own body, you are denied control over many more aspects of your life. Our party define any attempt to curtail reproductive rights as an act of violence against women and girls and WE confront all who commit this violence.
With this in mind, the Women’s Equality Party and BPAS took action.
As part of our #JustSayNon campaign, thousands of our members contacted Boots across multiple media to ask why a service cost so much in the UK.
Boots were charging £30 for the emergency contraceptive, Levonelle; Tesco and Superdrug retail the drug at £13.50; the drug sells for as little as £5 in France.
Perhaps this profiteering on women’s reproductive health shouldn’t come as a surprise when you realise that Boots is a business that can be seen as doing violence against its primary customers everyday.
The chemist sells diet scams, marked-up pink razors, vaginal deodorants and many more products that daily turn a profit for it by damaging women’s confidence and body image in order to access their purses.
Many in our campaign declared they would boycott Boots altogether until it reversed its decision. “I spend about £70 a month on toiletries, photographs and baby products,” one customer told me. “Not any more.”
Next on board was the Labour Party, which brilliantly sent a letter signed by female MPs – though not by the ‘absolute boy’, which was a shame – to Boots, asking it to reconsider.
Cross-party collaboration is one of the most powerful tools we have in these days of the Westminster power vacuum: Not long afterwards, the chemist apologised for causing offence and said it would look for cheaper alternatives.
But Boots’ apology does not go far enough. Efficacy, not profit, should be the driver here.
Cuts to women’s sexual healthcare services are already costing billions in unwanted pregnancies as the private firms winning NHS contracts offer cheaper and less effective contraceptives to protect their own bottom line.
The Family Planning Association has shown that cuts to women’s sexual healthcare services are already costing billions in unwanted pregnancies as the private firms winning NHS contracts offer cheaper and less effective contraceptives to protect their own bottom line.
Funding for sexual healthcare services must be protected and ring-fenced. The contraceptive pill should be free with or without prescription. Abortion should be free, safe and decriminalised in all parts of the UK.
There shouldn’t be any debate about this. While there is, it should be free of violence and harassment.
Today there are still social media trolls arguing that the stance for which Boots has apologised was never its stance. Because not only do we deny women control over their bodies but we also deny them the narrative of truth.
The truth is that having children is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ made exclusively by women.
The truth is that we have a fight on our hands to protect our most essential freedom from a society that decrees us natural caregivers and second-class citizens.
The truth is that Women’s Equality won a vital and important campaign against Boots – but there is much more to do. The more of us that work collaboratively and creatively, the better our chances of success.
Sophie Walker is the leader of the Women’s Equality Party. She tweets here.
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