News that the morning-after pill will be available over the counter from New Year's Day has been greeted with shock by church groups. A Department of Health spokesman confirmed yesterday (Sunday) that the morning after pill would be available for sale without prescription for the first time after 1 January 2001. Health Secretary Alan Milburn will push the controversial move by laying an order in Parliament today (Monday). Family groups say that making morning-after contraception more easily available will encourage young people to have unprotected sex and could particularly put the health of young women at risk. One Catholic doctor said: "This type of medication can cause deformities in the foetus if it is taken after conception has occurred. Aside from the moral issues, it seems totally irresponsible to allow people to buy this medication over the counter without seeing a medical practitioner first." She added: "I can't imagine the morning-after pill being given over the counter if it was for men." Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said the decision raised moral and health issues and he was "alarmed and appalled" by the decision. "Making the morning-after pill available to all girls over 16 in this way sends the wrong message about the need for responsible sexual activity," he said. "It can only increase the risk of worsening the current epidemic of sexually transmitted disease." He added : "These pills are not without side-effects. It must be in the best interests of every women to consult a doctor before taking medication of this kind. " A spokesperson for the Catholic Church in England and Wales said: "That the government wants to allow teenagers to buy the morning-after pill so freely, and without a doctor's supervision, is misguided and potentially dangerous. "Encouraging casual attitudes to sex and discouraging responsibility is not an effective or safe way of reducing the number of teenage pregnancies. "It is also misleading to state that a pill which prevents implantation is not abortifacient."