09/05/2016 12:58 BST | Updated 10/05/2017 06:12 BST

We Need to End the Shame Around Taking the Morning After Pill

I was 14 when I first bought the morning after pill.

It wasn't for me, it was for a friend. I was a virgin and had to lie to the pharmacist about how I'd had sex for the first time the night before and the condom had broken - I'd read in a magazine that such things could happen.

The reality was, my friend had lost her virginity the night before, to her boyfriend who was in the year above us at school. She'd mumbled something to him about condoms and he said he was already wearing one. She believed him, she didn't know any better. He's an arsehole and our school sex education was basically non-existent, as you can tell.

Outraged, I marched her to the pharmacy after school the next day to get the morning after pill, but she'd gotten cold feet a few doors away, so I went in on her behalf.

Had I been going in for myself at that age, I'd have been so intimidated I may not have gone through with it. But the strong desire to help my friend (and the fact that I was a keen drama student at the time) meant overrode any anxiety and after a brief over-the-counter interrogation and £25 later, I left with the small tablet in my blazer pocket.

In the years since, I've had to get the morning after pill a few times for myself. While I'm not the type to get embarrassed about such things, I've always been acutely aware - and often frustrated - by the amount of shame associated with getting emergency contraception.

First, there's the price tag. A signal, if ever there was one, that this is an expense, a luxury, that shouldn't appear regularly on the shopping list.

A report out today reveals that the morning after pill is "five times more expensive" to purchase in Britain compared to other areas of Europe, costing up to a whopping £31.60. This is utterly unacceptable.

The study brought back memories of my year abroad in France, where I once bought the morning after pill in France for a reasonable 7€. Maybe I should have bulk bought, like when people go to fill their car up with cheap bottles of plonk.

But I needn't have bothered. Why? Because NEWSFLASH! you don't need to pay for the morning after pill at all in the UK. Not once, not ever.

Unbeknownst to many women, you can get emergency contraception for free in certain pharmacies, some GP practices, sexual health clinics and many other places.

But for some reason, this information isn't readily communicated. It should be taught in schools, it should be passed on by parents. If only I'd have known a decade ago, then my 14-year-old friend wouldn't have had to part with her pocket money to prevent a teen pregnancy. I wonder how many other women and girls have also had to reach into their own pockets, I wonder how many have been forced to "chance it" because they can't afford it at all.

But what you save money-wise, you pay for with your time. It's not particularly straightforward to get the morning after pill in the UK for free.

Unless you're fortunate enough to have one of the free-contraception-wielding pharmacies nearby, you'll be spending an hour or so in the waiting room of the GP or sexual health clinic.

But why do we have to have a lengthy consultation in the first place? It's just sex, not an illness. If a woman wants to speak to a professional, or if she is constantly in the clinic and might need to review her contraception choices (for example, getting an IUD if she forgets her pill often) then so be it. Otherwise, can't we just be treated like adults?

This isn't an attempt to berate healthcare professionals, but to challenge a system that has unnecessary obstacles for women. It's as if the whole system is geared up to shame women about our choices, sexuality, and will to control our own contraception.

I'm also not suggesting we start popping morning after pills with our breakfast, but we must be trusted to make decisions for ourselves.

At present there are too many are unnecessary hurdles in the way - whether it's time, money or the need to explain yourself - I dread to think how many women are put-off going altogether.

In short: the morning after pill needs to be free and easy to obtain. We need better education, information and awareness about options and availability.

I feel so strongly about it that we've written a series of helpful guides on the matter today. Firstly, a piece on where to get the morning after pill for free and another dispelling myths on emergency contraception to answer questions women may not feel empowered to ask.

People often say it's irresponsible to get the morning after pill, but in actual fact it's responsible to get it. Let's end the shame around emergency contraception.