Contraceptives and the Morning-After-Pill in Ireland

Can You (Easily) Get Contraceptives in Ireland?

Contraception is no longer an
••• Contraception is no longer an "under the counter" thing in Ireland. © Bernd Biege 2017

Contraception, let alone emergency contraception (a.k.a. „The Morning-After-Pill“) in Ireland? Rumour still has it that there is no Irish contraception except cold showers, a sturdy door, and prayers. Questions like "I heard that contraception is only available to married couples in Ireland - what can I do when I'll be spending a few months there?" can still be found on bulletin boards, even in 2017.

Making one wonder where the heck people pick this rubbish up? "Granny's Tales from Auld Oireland"? And then helpful "experts" jump in and dispense advice on how to smuggle condoms and even "the pill" into the country. Yes, that is really helpful. And it is ... wrong, utterly wrong, totally wrong! Contraceptives are widely available in Ireland. It might occasionally be advisable to bring your own, however. And not only to prevent pregnancy. Because sex in Ireland might have hidden dangers.

An Irish History of Contraception

The bottom line is this - the Catholic church is critical of any form of contraception, and so was the Irish state. Until an "Irish solution to a particularly Irish problem" was found by Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1979. This was not intended to further immoral leanings at all.

Imports and sales of contraceptives had been banned ever since 1935 and carried stiff penalties.

This ban was regularly broken and a court case started by Mary McGee in 1973 (customs took a tube of spermicidal cream from her, and in Ireland every sperm was sacred) put the rights of the individual to privacy above the state's ban on contraception. From 1973 to 1979 family planning clinics could thus legally give out contraceptives, but not sell them ...

instead the clinics insisted on a donation. Doctors could at the same time hand out prescriptions for "the pill", as long as this oral contraceptive was only used to regulate menstruation. Lots of Irish women started to suffer from irregular periods all of a sudden. In 1979 Haughey introduced the Contraceptive Bill. This made it legal to trade condoms in pharmacies as long as the buyer brought a prescription, and they were only used for "bona fide family planning purposes".

Which all boiled down to a neat little money-spinner for the medical profession and one big joke. But it also started the process of liberalization, leading to the total legality of today.

Contraceptives in Ireland

Today you will find contraceptives on sale all over Ireland.

Oral contraceptives and contraceptive patches are available by prescription only, through pharmacies (note that some, albeit very few, doctors may not give that non-Catholic prescription on principle - contact a family planning clinic or women's health center if stuck). Condoms are widely available in pharmacies, supermarkets and through vending machines - though the cheapest (yet still reliable) condoms you may find are probably in Lidl, even flavoured ones.

For all other non-prescription contraceptives talk to a pharmacist.

One word of warning though - your preferred choice of contraception may not be (widely) available in Ireland. Or the prices might be high. So it might be a good idea to bring your own.

And another thought to bear in mind is the fact that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are definitely on the rise in Ireland. Any casual sexual encounter comes with a high risk of infection. The use of condoms not only as a method of contraception but to prevent the spread of STDs is highly advisable, even if there is no vaginal sex. Here fruit-flavoured condoms begin to make sense, too.

The "Morning-After-Pill" and Other Post-Coital Contraception

Long regarded as Satan's ultimate challenge to chastity, emergency post-coital contraception is now available in Ireland.

For instance through the Irish Family Planning Association clinics, or even through pharmacies as an over-the-counter product. Without involving lengthy interviews and comments on your sexual behavior - so don't (as nobody does) expect the Spanish Inquisition.

You might want to check up on how to get medical help in Ireland for the complete picture.

But generally speaking, your point of contact is the GP you are registered with (or any doctor that'll accept you on short notice), a family planning clinic (which you'd find in larger towns only), or any pharmacist. They will be able to advise you on the emergency contraception options open to you.

Options? Yes, there are three main options open to anybody wishing to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. These depend on when your last period occurred, and on how time has passed since you had unprotected sex.

Option 1 - The 3-Day-Pill

This is known under the brand names Levonelle or Norlevo and would be the most readily available emergency contraception method, the famous "morning after pill". Check out the basic facts:

  • Time limit for use - 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex.
  • Effectiveness - this pill is rated as being 99% effective in preventing pregnancy ... but only if taken within 12 hours after having unprotected sex. It becomes less effective on Day 2 and Day 3.
  • How does it work? Levonelle/Norlevo works by delaying ovulation through interfering with your body chemistry.
  • Does it provide future protection against pregnancy? No - Levonelle/Norlevo does not protect you from pregnancy the next time. Women using a hormonal method of contraception are also advised to take extra precautions (like using a condom) for up to nine days.
  • Availability in Ireland - Norlevo is available to buy directly from pharmacists. Levonelle and Norlevo are also available on prescription from GPs or Family Planning Clinics.
  • Availability in Northern Ireland - Levonelle can be bought over the counter in Northern Ireland. You can also get free through the National Health Service, even as a tourist (though this will involve a visit to a health care provider).
  • What will it cost you? Norlevo can be bought for around € 25 in the Republic of Ireland or £ 20 in Northern Ireland. Prices for consultations and prescriptions can vary.

Option 2 - The 5-Day-Pill

This is known under the brand name EllaOne and would be the used as emergency contraception if the 3-Day-Pill was no longer applicable. The basic facts you should know:

  • Time limit for use - 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex.
  • Effectiveness - EllaOne is rated as 99.5% effective, but again it should be taken as soon as possible.
  • How does it work? EllaOne also works by delaying ovulation through interfering with your body chemistry.
  • Does it provide future protection against pregnancy? No - EllaOne does not protect you from pregnancy the next time. Women using a hormonal method of contraception are also advised to take extra precautions (like using a condom) for up to 16 days.
  • Availability in Ireland - You cannot buy EllaOne over the counter, but will need a prescription from a GP (that would include out of hours services like "Doctor on Call") or a family planning clinic.
  • Availability in Northern Ireland - EllaOne is provided free through the National Health Service, but you will need to visit a health care provider.
  • What will it cost you? Prices for consultations and prescriptions can vary.

Option 3 - The Copper Coil

This is known as a "post coital intra-uterine device (IUD)" and is the most "complicated" emergency contraception method. Meaning you can't simply pick it up and swallow it. Here are the basic facts:

  • Time limit for use - 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex.
  • Effectiveness - IUDs are rated as 99.9% effective and thus the safest choice. Again you should get advice as soon as possible.
  • How does it work? An IUD will prevent sperm from joining an egg, or prevent any fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. Simply by being present in the uterus.
  • Does it provide future protection against pregnancy? Actually - yes. An IUD can be left in the uterus for up to ten years, as a regular method of contraception. Alternatively, it can be removed at your next period.
  • Availability in Ireland - an IUD can only be inserted by a specially trained GP or in a family planning clinic.
  • Availability in Northern Ireland - IUDs are provided free through the National Health Service, but you will need to visit a health care provider that can actually fit one.
  • What will it cost you? Prices for consultations and prescriptions can vary, but an IUD can be a long-term solution to protect you against unwanted pregnancies.

A Note on Abortion

Not wanting to suggest that abortion is in any way comparable to contraception, I'd nonetheless like to clarify the Irish position at this stage:

Abortion is, in itself, illegal in Ireland and carries a hefty sentence if performed and brought to court. Travelling to other countries for an abortion is the norm in many cases. There are, however, special circumstances under which abortions can be performed in Ireland, these generally include a clear and present danger for the life of the mother.