Boots issued a legal warning to a pregnancy charity over its public campaign for more affordable emergency contraception, it has emerged.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) revealed the high street chain accused it of encouraging “personal abuse” and “harassment” of top Boots executives.

In a formal complaint issued on 1 August through law firm Schillings – often employed by celebrities – Boots alleged that BPAS helped cause “immense personal distress” to senior executives.

It followed a row over Boots’ pricing of the morning-after pill, with the company apologising in July for its “poor choice of words” after it initially resisted lobbying efforts by BPAS to reduce the cost of emergency contraception.

The morning-after pill costs from £26.75 at Boots, while rivals Superdrug sell one brand of the emergency contraceptive at £13.49 and Tesco also stocks cheaper versions of the pill.

Boots had said it “would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use” of the pill when, at first, it refused to review its pricing.

Some 3.5m Britons use the contraceptive pill
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BPAS lobbied major pharmacists over the cost of the morning-after pill

The company later backtracked and vowed to look at stocking cheaper products amid public pressure to rethink its stance – including from MPs.

BPAS’s lobbying campaign, prompted by the much cheaper pricing of the morning-after pill abroad than in the UK, encouraged supporters to email Boots over its stance.

A template on the campaign website previously included the names of five senior Boots employees for emails to be addressed to.

Four were removed following the initial apology from Boots, but the name of one executive remains.

On Thursday, BPAS was still encouraging supporters to contact the company in order to pressure it into acting on its pledge to reduce the price of the pill.

Boots’ legal letter alleges a “torrent of personal abuse” was directed at ITS employees as a result of the campaign, according to BPAS.

But the charity says the chain “comprehensively misrepresented” messages it received from the public as a result of the campaign.

It also claims that Boots “demanded” that details of its legal warning were not made public.


A general view of the former Woolworths store, now occupied by Boots the Chemist in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Video:
Boots ‘ truly sorry’ for pill comments

Boots insists it was not seeking to stifle public debate over the issue of emergency contraception and had no problems with emails being sent to its customer services department.

A Boots spokesperson 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.”

Amid the row over Boots’ legal warning to BPAS, the chain announced it would be able to offer the morning-after pill Levonorgestrel at a cost of £15.99 across all its stores in October.

The cheaper pill has already been on sale for the past month in 38 of its stores.