High street chemist Boots sent a legal letter to a reproductive rights charity after it urged the store to cut the price of emergency contraception in a nationwide campaign, the charity has said.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) said Boots accused it of engaging in “personal abuse” that “caused immense personal distress” to senior Boots executives.
Boots described emails and comments on social media as a “torrent of personal abuse” against their employees, according to the charity.
But bpas said Boots failed to provide any evidence of abuse sent through the campaign and “comprehensively misrepresented” messages from members of the public.
Despite the row, the chemist has now reduced the cost of emergency contraception. Previously, the morning after pill cost a minimum of £26.75 at the store, but a product priced at £15.99 will soon be available.
The row started after bpas launched a campaign to lower the cost of the morning after pill in the UK following research stating it costs “five times more” here than other places in Europe.
While the morning after pill is free from GPs and most GUM clinics, if you need to access it at the weekend or at a specific time (say, on your lunch break), pharmacies can be your only option.
Other high street chemists, such as Superdrug, responded to the campaign by lowering the cost of emergency contraception, but initially, Boots - the UK’s leading pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer - refused to do the same and found itself front and centre of the debate.
According to Sky News, bpas’ campaign website encouraged members of the public to contact Boots and complain about the cost of emergency contraception. The template reportedly included the names of five senior Boots employees for emails to be addressed to.
In a statement shared with HuffPost UK, bpas claimed emails from women concerned about the issue included: “I have, as a cash-strapped and rather terrified student, bought the emergency contraception from Boots in the past. I skipped lunch that week to cover the cost. Someone who cannot afford lunch, cannot afford to have a child.”
In a statement, published by Buzzfeed, Boots said: “As a responsible employer, we actively seek to protect our colleagues from abuse and harassment.
“In our legal letter to bpas we made it very clear that we welcome the debate on the provision of EHC (emergency hormonal contraception), and respect their right to raise this issue with us.
“We asked them simply to remove personal email details from their campaign widget and to agree not to encourage personal abuse of our people. We provided examples of where our employees have received abuse by email and social media in response to bpas’s campaign.
“Bpas have not yet agreed to do this and we will continue to ask that they agree to our simple request, which was made only to protect the interests of our employees.
“We hope to receive a constructive response from bpas, and do not wish to comment further at this time.”
The legal letter came after Boots said it was “truly sorry” for the way it initially responded to calls for it to reduce the price tag on emergency contraception.
The chain faced criticism in July after refusing to reduce the cost of the morning after pill over fears it could incentivise its use.
At the time, Boots reportedly said: “We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.”
The chemist was accused of “straight up misogyny” for the statement and condemned by both bpas and the Women’s Equality Party.
At the time, Boots said its price tag was based on the cost of the medicine and the consultation the pharmacists carries out with women but it was “committed” to finding less expensive versions of the tablet.
On Thursday, Boots announced that 38 stores are now offering a new, less expensive generic version of EHC (Levonorgestrel) at a cost of £15.99, adding that it will be offered across all stores in October.
A Boots spokesperson said: “We’re committed to listening to our customers on this important matter, and have been working hard to establish a sustainable supply of this medicine so we can offer this as part of our EHC service nationally across all 2,500 of our stores.
“We continue to believe that the best way to increase access of EHC is for a free NHS service to be made available to all women for the provision of EHC in England, as it is in Scotland and Wales.”
Commenting on the latest development, Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at bpas said: “We are pleased to see that in future Boots will be providing a cheaper emergency contraceptive product across its stores nationwide.
“We are extremely saddened that Boots feels the need to resort to legal warnings against a charity representing the concerns of women in the process.”