Emergency contraceptives have been legal in Malta since 2016 however, accessing them is a touch-and-go affair. For some people, the process has been swift and easy, while others bumped into a lot of trouble, a new Lovin Malta survey found.
“My experience was absolutely horrible. I still feel shame thinking about it nearly four years later, and it wasn’t even for me,” said a woman in her 20s.
Lovin Malta received over 700 responses from men, women and non-binary people of all ages and walks of life on a survey about the state of sex on the island and this is the second part of a multi-article series shedding light on what people think about several related issues.
We’re doing this because the lack of priority of sexual health and understanding is a problem that has rippled into several aspects of daily life.
The morning after pill (MAP) has been under heat in Malta since it was first proposed, and now, five years after its legislation, some people still find it difficult to access.
Be it because of age, religion, opinion or unexplained refusals – people are still finding it unnecessarily hard to access emergency contraceptives leaving them with their backs against a wall in a country where abortion is completely illegal.
That being said, Lovin Malta acknowledges that this is not the case in all pharmacies, in fact we received a mixed review with some saying that their experience was very simple. Nonetheless, the fact that this is not the case for everyone is a cause for major concern.
So without further ado, here are the experiences of people in Malta trying to acquire the MAP:
1. You can have sex at 16 but can’t access the MAP alone unless you’re 18…
One thing that really stuck out was the fact that people under the age of 18 can’t get it without the help of an older relative or friend – kind of counterproductive when Malta’s age of consent is 16 and the country has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in southern Europe, don’t you think ?
“I made my older sister get it from the pharmacy for me as I was underaged,” said a teenage girl.
“I was 16 so I went through the process of asking questions until she saw my ID and told me I needed a parent. I ended up getting it from an older friend all within a pressing time frame,” said another girl in her teens.
“My girlfriend and I weren’t 18 at the time so we couldn’t get it,” a man in his 20s worryingly explained.
“When I was under 18 I had to get friends or family members who weren’t my parents to buy it for me as I didn’t want my parents to know,” said a teenage respondent.
“I was helping someone else get it and we had to go to more than one pharmacy. I believe it should be available everywhere. There is also an age limit (I think) if teenagers that are 15/16 are having sex why do you need to be 18 to buy it,” another teenage girl said.
It goes without saying that this regulation is ridiculous. With the current sex culture in Malta, it’s very unlikely for a teen to comfortably and willingly tell their parents that they need emergency contraception.
If there’s any age bracket in which this medication should be readily available for it’s the under 18-year-olds because their lack of experience comes with the likelihood of more mistakes.
Also, these ages generally aren’t using hormonal birth controls, thanks to Malta’s poor sex education, don’t want a baby and like I said, are new to sex.
For those of you playing devil’s advocate and considering this regulation to be one for the health and safety of under 18-year-olds, it’s not.
In fact the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that “any woman or girl of reproductive age may need emergency contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. There are no absolute medical contraindications to the use of emergency contraception.”
“There are no age limits for the use of emergency contraception. Eligibility criteria for general use of a copper IUD also apply for use of a copper IUD for emergency purposes,” the organisation added.
2. The MAP isn’t available everywhere
According to some of our respondents, the hardest part of getting the emergency contraceptive pill was actually finding a pharmacy that sells it, which is dangerous considering the short window in which the medication remains effective.
“My biggest problem was trying to find the pharmacies as not all of them sell them,” said a teenage respondent.
“I had to go to four different pharmacies as no one stocked it. When I finally found a pharmacy they took me to a private room to ask me why I wanted it and stuff about my relationship,” a teenage girl explained.
“Spent more than an hour to get it, jumping from one pharmacy to another and being seen in some bizarre way,” a man in his 20s recounted.
“A friend of mine tried, but was almost impossible as we ended up calling a good number of pharmacies,” another man, this time in his 30s, explained.
“I know women who have tried to purchase it and were turned down by four pharmacies. Some pharmacists even gave them dirty looks and ordered them to leave when they asked for the MAP,” said another respondent
“Been to three pharmacies. One was extremely helpful and took me to a private room to speak about it. One was talking to me in front of other people. Third one did not sell it, and guided me to another pharmacy,” one answer detailed.
Most emergency contraceptives can only be taken up to three days after having sex. However, the EllaOne can be taken up to five days after having sex.
But, it is strongly recommended that the MAP is taken as soon as possible because the longer you wait the less effective it becomes.
3. Paperwork, judgement and lots and lots of questions
Some respondents explained that although they were able to access the pill, they felt “interrogated” and judged through body language and “bad looks”.
“My friend said it’s very difficult and felt judged when asking/buying it,” said a woman in her 20s.
“The pharmacist was very helpful and answered all my questions (even though I had researched prior) the only downside was I was asked so many questions about why I was buying it, it felt way too intrusive for one tiny pill,” another woman in her 20s recounted.
“I had to wait for a doctor to take me to a room at the back and ask me a set of questions, including whether I had unprotected sex,” said a respondent in their 30s.
“It was a bit awkward since the pharmacist had to ask me personal questions, and I was 19 years old at that time,” another person revealed.
“I bought the pill twice in two different countries: In Malta I was asked to move aside, walk in a room and questioned. Felt like I was being interrogated especially by the pharmacist while she was speaking to me in a worried yet judged tone. In America: No questions asked. Bought it in a second and left. The difference in mentality.”
“Uncomfortable, complete lack of privacy, couldn’t understand why I needed to provide justification,” someone else said.
“You don’t find it everywhere but there is info on where to find it. They ask you a bunch of questions which is fine,” said another respondent.
“Many questions asked at the pharmacy, sometimes quite demeaning. Not many pharmacies stock it.”
Others even said that this judgement was felt when they were being turned away.
“My friends said it was an absolute nightmare almost as frowned upon as an abortion … almost,” someone soberly admitted.
“I had to give my ID card number and sit for a mini interview. I was not judged however. The other experiences I heard of were full of judgement. Some even refuse!”
“A pharmacist chose not to sell it despite it being in stock as it was against his ethical beliefs,” someone said referring to something called conscientious objection where pharmacists can refuse to sell a customer the MAP based on their own personal beliefs.
If a pharmacist does this they are obliged to redirect them to another pharmacy.
But, how is it ok to withhold necessary and legal medication because you don’t agree with it?
If you don’t like it, feel free not to take it, but no one should be at liberty to make this decision for someone else, especially when the effects of not taking the pill are quite literally life-changing.
4. Men can’t buy the MAP
A number of respondents said that they tried to buy the MAP for their girlfriends but they couldn’t because they were men. This is primarily because the person taking the pill needs to fill in some documents, which is a bit strange considering it’s an-over-the-counter medication.
But hey, I’m no doctor.
“A hassle, I think since I’m a guy though, the salesperson gave me a lot of hassle about it,” said a man in his 20s.
“They would not give it to me but wanted my partner to go to the pharmacy – she was too shy,” said another man.
“Not all pharmacies have it, but luckily in the panic I found one close by to me had it. I tried to buy it myself as my girlfriend at the time was embarrassed to get it herself, but I was obviously not allowed to buy it for her. She was embarrassed when buying it and wasn’t forthcoming with what she had to do to buy it. That stigma should be removed,” another man explained.
“As a man, I was not allowed to purchase it. I had tried for my partner as she was embarrassed (pharmacies can be very judgemental places and you have the chance of running into someone you know). Which I think is ridiculous,” said another respondent.
This situation is a bit tricky because some argue that men shouldn’t be allowed to buy it since they can use it on a woman without her consent, however, maybe there should be some system in place where a woman or girl can give their consent in writing or over the phone.
A man should be able to buy this medication if his partner, daughter, friend or whoever she is to him, needs it. The whole experience is daunting enough for women, let them use that extra help if they want it.
5. Accessing the pill was easy
Despite the aforementioned anecdotes, we can’t ignore the strides that the country has made in making this medication accessible for many people across the island.
In fact, we had a good amount of respondents who found the process relatively easy.
“I was lucky to find an open minded pharmacist who was very helpful, non judgemental and reassuring,” said a woman in her 20s.
“It was fine. I researched to see which pharmacies stocked it. I was lucky that one in my village stocked it. The pharmacist was quite non judgmental and matter of fact about it,” another woman explained.
“Got it from Brown’s Pharmacy – very professional,” said another woman.
“I knew people so it was easy for me,” another answer conveyed.
“Luckily found no problems at the first pharmacy I tried,” another person said.
“It was accessible,” said another.
Then, there were some people who had a couple of good and a couple of not-so-good experiences.
“Luckily from a pharmacy in Swatar without any issues , other times – absolute disaster,” one said
“Always bought it from different pharmacies, some were welcoming and discreet, in other cases it was an embarrassing experience,” said another.
As you can see, getting the morning after pill in Malta isn’t always straight-forward and this can have very damaging effects.
One respondent even said that she had a third child as a result of not being able to access the pill.
Acquiring this pill is especially difficult on a Sunday. In fact, MaltaToday found that, on average, 64% of pharmacies that are open on this day sell the pill – in case you were wondering, that’s not a lot.
To see which pharmacies sell the MAP, use the Escapelle pharmacy finder.
Do you think that the morning after pill needs to be more accessible in Malta?