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Aoife Finneran: Finally, women can make their own choices. Don't like it? Tough

WHEN I learned that the Boots chain of pharmacies was to offer over-the-counter emergency contraception to customers, my first reaction was "it's about time".

Mind you, it's barely 30 years ago that condoms couldn't be obtained in this country for love nor money, so perhaps this week's announcement should be considered a giant progression.

No doubt the airwaves will now be clogged by naysayers warning that such a move will make fools of us all, because women will be stupid enough to think of the morning-after pill as a regular method of contraception.

And as for those who will really feel the pain -- the GPs who currently benefit financially from offering the service -- they're already warning that customers could suffer from a low quality of care.

In other words, they'd like to continue charging their usual rates in order to hand out prescriptions and they don't like the prospect of being undercut by a chain of pharmacies.

Frankly, the latest news is little more than an announcement of new competition in the sector, and one which is providing a cost-effective alternative to the current market leaders.

In that case, what GP wouldn't be cranky at the prospect of losing customers?

But don't try and push the argument that a competent pharmacist can't manage to provide this service.

As Boots has already explained, the pill will be available to women only after private consultation and counselling.

This is not a free-for-all.

Maybe among the critics there's a niggling sense that such ease of availability will turn the nation's women into predatory nymphos who will jump on anyone because they know the morning-after pill is there as a back-up.

I think not.

After all, the €45 fee Boots intends to charge is still a considerable sum, albeit cheaper than going to a doctor. And when you have to go through the time-consuming process of interview and consultation each time, you're not going to look upon emergency contraception as an impulse buy.


Let's be clear about this. We're not headed into a situation where Josephine Soap heads to Boots to do her pre-Saturday night shopping and emerges with a bag full of make-up, gel sole pads for her high heels, a few Lifeline tablets to stave off the hangover and a morning-after pill just in case.

No, this drug is being administered by highly-trained pharmacists, abiding by the rules which are there for a reason.

Ultimately, this development could prevent so many unwanted pregnancies in cases where desperate women simply can't afford the luxury of a GP visit.

As long as Boots carries it out within recommended guidelines and follow all responsible procedures, what's the problem?

In a country where we've had a sad history of being told what to do or not to do in our own bedrooms, this development is very welcome news.

But after generations of chaos and restrictions on the issue of family planning, perhaps complaints are to be expected.

After all, old-schoolers will always baulk at the prospect of women making independent choices about their own bodies.

Sorry old fogies, but you'd better believe it.