Contraceptives and the Morning-After-Pill in Ireland

Can You (Easily) Get Contraceptives in Ireland?

Contraception is no longer an
© Bernd Biege 2017

Times have changed and contraception, even emergency contraception (also known as "The Morning-After-Pill") are now widely available in Ireland.

Don't listen to the rumors that joke 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 heard echoing in online forums and even in the touristy pubs on a big night out. But Ireland is thoroughly modern when it comes to your options for safe sex and pregnancy preventions. There is no need to smuggle condoms and even "the pill" into the country - they are definitely allowed by Irish customs.

You also don't need to bring them with you because contraceptives are widely available in Ireland. Like any medication or personal item, you might want to pack what you need, just in case. You see - sex in Ireland might have hidden dangers.

An Irish History of Contraception

The history of contraception in Ireland has a lot to do with the history of religion in Ireland. Quite simply - the Catholic church is critical of any form of contraception, and so was the Irish state. That is until an "Irish solution to a particularly Irish problem" was found by Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1979.

Imports and sales of contraceptives had been banned ever since 1935 and carried stiff penalties. This ban was regularly broken and became front page news when a court case was started by Mary McGee in 1973 after customs took a tube of spermicidal cream from her. The court decided to 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 they were not allowed to sell them. As a work around, 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. Finally, 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. There are still a very few number of doctors practicing in Ireland today who won't write that kind of non-Catholic prescription on principle so simply 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 - a popular discount market. 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 if you have the time and space to plan for that.

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.

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

Long regarded as completely forbidden by the Catholic Church, emergency 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 hesitate to go into a pharmacy if you need to.

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

Generally speaking, if you need a prescription of any sort, 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 while in Ireland. 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 best 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

Abortion is not a form of contraceptive, but it is a major topic in Ireland following many campaigns in the past few years. To clarify the current status:

After a referendum in 2018, abortion is now legal in Ireland. Until last year, it was illegal in Ireland and carried a hefty sentence if performed and brought to court. Traveling to other countries for an abortion became the norm in many cases. However, this is no longer the case and these types of medical procedures are now available. Contact your doctor or health clinic for the latest information and referrals.

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