Women in Northern Ireland can now buy up to three morning-after pills from an online pharmacy without seeing a GP or pharmacist — sparking concern that it will encourage unsafe sex.
And further fears have emerged that thousands of girls under 18 throughout the province could access the emergency contraception without proper monitoring.
The concerns were raised after the service, launched yesterday by Lloyds Pharmacy, allows women to buy the morning-after pill without seeing a GP or pharmacist face to face.
The company says the service will not knowingly be available to girls under the age of 18 and treatments will only be dispatched to the person whose name is on the credit or debit card used to make the payment online.
The chemist website is selling a single pill for £28, a pack of two for £52 and three for £75.
The chemist confirmed that the online service is available to women in Northern Ireland, adding that it was safe.
However it has faced major criticism from campaigners who fear the tablets could be “stockpiled” or sold on to young people without proper monitoring.
A spokesman for Lloyds Pharmacy told the Belfast Telegraph: “The new Lloyds pharmacy advance Emergency Hormonal Contraception service is available to people living in Northern Ireland.
“Regarding the issue of safety, interviews with women who |received EHC in advance have shown that while advance supplies are seen as useful they are not considered an alternative to their forms of contraception.”
Women must fill in a comprehensive online medical questionnaire which is reviewed by a doctor before treatment can be prescribed and dispensed by post.
However Bernie Smyth from pro-life group Precious Life said she has “major concerns” about the service.
She said she will be raising the matter today with politicians at the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“What is to stop a young girl from getting an older friend to use their credit card?” she said.
“Also, what if there are people who are buying these pills in bulk, or stockpiling them and selling them on to younger people?”
But the Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland said one of the main issues is improving sex and relationship education of young people.
Dr Audrey Simpson, from the organisation said: “I suppose people will say it will encourage irresponsible or unsafe sex, but I think it is being disingenuous of people, because after all, most people are fairly responsible about their sexual behaviour.”