Girls Under 12 Are Offered "Morning-after" Pill

United Kingdom Cites High Rate of Teen-age Pregnancies

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LONDON, FEB. 14, 2001 ( Girls as young as 9 years old are to be given free access to the potentially abortifacient «morning-after» pill from their local pharmacy, The Independent reported today.

The trial program, starting today in the Bridgend area of south Wales, which has one of the highest teen-age pregnancy rates in Europe, has no lower age limit. Girls requesting the confidential service can do so free and without seeking parental permission.

Doctors backing the scheme, which is primarily aimed at teen-agers, have admitted that girls aged 12 or younger may have access to the service, the newspaper said. With the falling age of the onset of puberty, it is possible that youngsters of 9 or 10 could participate.

Under the scheme, 10 pharmacies will offer the service over six months. Pharmacists who have any concerns will be able to refer the girls to physicians.

Under the national scheme launched last month, young women have to be aged over 16 and pay £20 ($29) to get «emergency contraception» from a pharmacist. In the Bridgend scheme, pharmacies have been given what is in effect an open prescription to give the contraception to girls who fulfill certain criteria.

Dr. Rosemary Fox, senior clinical medical officer and medical adviser to the project, said: «It is quite possible that a child as young as 12 may unfortunately need to use it, but 8 or 9 would be at the very extreme end … if a young person needed emergency contraception and they were 9, then better to have it than not have it. … I think we would all prefer they had access to emergency contraception rather than having a baby or a termination at such a young age.´´

Nevetheless, the pill can be abortifacient since it can impede a fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus.

Latest figures show that Britain has the highest teen-age birthrate in Europe -­ twice that of Germany, three times that of France, and six times the Dutch rate, the newspaper said. Within the United Kingdom, Wales has the highest rate of teen-age conception; 44% of pregnant girls in Wales aged under 16 have an abortion.

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