“I didn’t leave the pharmacy feeling relieved, just judged and insecure,” a 19-year-old woman told Lovin Malta about her experience buying the morning-after pill (MAP) at a Maltese pharmacy.
The MAP, or ‘Plan B,’ has been available in Malta since 14th December 2016 without needing a prescription. With Malta being the only EU country that has yet to legalise abortion, it’s no wonder the bill caused a lot of controversy before it was even signed.
Today, less than 80 pharmacies on the island sell the MAP. Pharmacists are allowed to refuse to stock the Pill if they believe that it is abortive.
So, what have the experiences been for women in Malta with regards to obtaining the MAP?
The young woman who spoke to Lovin Malta on condition of anonymity said she has needed the MAP twice. The first time, the pharmacist (male) asked simple informative questions in a discreet manner and promptly gave it to her. “He was sympathetic and didn’t make me feel nervous at all,” she says.
The second time, in a different location, the pharmacist (female) led her into another room and began reading out the questions that need to be asked before the MAP can be given. However, the young woman claims that the pharmacist “went off track with the questions”.
“She asked me why I made the same mistake twice, why I wasn’t careful, and told me that I should go on birth control.”
But what if this girl had been a rape victim?
“She told me I was lucky I was above 18, otherwise she would have had to call my parents.”
When asked whether she thought the different genders of the pharmacists made a difference in their reactions, she said yes.
Another woman said that when she went to purchase the MAP to have “just in case”, the pharmacist told her she couldn’t sell it under those conditions.
A Maltese Facebook group called Women For Women recently discussed the topic, also bringing into question why women are asked for ID.
The administrator of the group Francesca Fenech Conti wrote a letter to the Chamber of Pharmacists about the many reports being received about pharmacies. She said it would be very helpful if the public was made aware by the Chamber of Pharmacists of the correct procedure at law for dispensing this over the counter medication.
“Personally I see no need to ask any form of questions because whenever I go to buy other over the counter medication I am never asked and sort of questions. I don’t ever recall being asked when was the last time I had a headache when asking for Nurofen or how long have you been coughing if I go to buy cough syrup, unless I specifically ask for the pharmacist’s advice about which medication I should use. However, should you insist on asking questions, these should be standardised for all pharmacies and they should be publicly announced to ensure no abusive or embarrassing questions are asked to people wanting to buy this pill and people should be taken aside to a private area while being asked these private and for some people very embarrassing questions,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists told The Malta Independent it has not received any complaints from the public.
Mary Ann Sant Fournier, President of the Chamber of Pharmacists, said questions were asked in the best interest and safety of the woman requesting the pill. She said the Chamber had already explained the reasons behind the questions that pharmacists ask as part of the protocol to dispense emergency contraception.
When asked whether pharmacists should take the client to the side or in another room to ask these questions, she said that in the Chamber’s guidance is that the process is “carried out in the best confidential way possible.”
Sant Fournier also confirmed there were no specific requirements as to where such products were placed and this is the choice of the pharmacist.