After the recent approval of over-the-counter birth control in the US, here are the European countries where birth control pills can be obtained without a prescription.
US authorities approved a birth control pill last week which is the first that can be purchased without a prescription.
This comes in light of the country’s Supreme Court overturning a key court case, Roe v. Wade, last year, a decision that resulted in numerous US states heavily restricting abortion access.
This recent breakthrough with over-the-counter birth control is now expected to reduce some inequalities in accessing contraception and could benefit those who have difficulties dealing with the cost or logistics of getting a prescription from a doctor.
“It will, of course, make it easier for women who don't have the time or the financial means to go see a doctor,” Marina Davidashvili, head of Policy and Research at the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF), told Euronews Next.
“It removes one step in women accessing it. Of course, it is important that women are checked regularly and that they visit the gynaecologist to check if they have any contraindications to taking the pill. But assuming that the woman did it and she knows what she needs, which I think most women do, it will, of course, ease the access,” she added.
While the contraceptive pill is available over-the-counter in multiple countries including Mexico, China, and India, the hormonal birth control pill is available by prescription only in most countries in Europe.
Many European countries, however, offer free access to birth control with a prescription and over-the-counter access to the emergency contraceptive pill.
Where in Europe is the hormonal birth control pill available over the counter?
According to the European Parliamentary Forum’s Contraception Atlas, a map that scores 46 countries in Europe on access to modern contraception, most EU countries don’t offer the contraceptive pill without a prescription.
“The reason for this is that it encourages women to go to the gynaecologist regularly or to the general practitioner and get a general check-up,” Davidashvili said.
“They're afraid that if contraception becomes available without a prescription, they [women] will no longer be encouraged or women might not go, and then we might miss some other serious conditions that this visit can reveal,” she said.
“So for this reason, many partners advocate for keeping contraception under prescription,” she added.
In France, the birth control pill is available to all women, even without parental consent for those 15 and older, but a prescription is required.
Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, is, however, available without a prescription in pharmacies.
France also introduced full coverage of the cost of contraception for all women under the age of 26 in 2022, extending the initiative that used to only cover minors, with the goal of making contraception more accessible to those who can’t afford it.
Similarly, in neighbouring country Germany, the hormonal contraceptive pill, whether the mini pill or the combined one, is only available via prescription.
Those aged 14 and under also require parental consent to be prescribed the pill.
Portugal has similar regulations with oral contraception only accessible with a prescription, while it remains one of the most common contraception methods prescribed.
In Italy, however, a prescription is not needed to get hormonal contraceptives, according to the Contraception Policy Atlas. But emergency contraceptive pills were not available over-the-counter until 2015 when they were reclassified and became available without a prescription to those over the age of 18.
Italy also just recently was set to make contraception free for all women, no matter their age, a move that was widely celebrated but faced backlash from anti-abortion advocates.
In 2021, the UK meanwhile made two progestogen-only contraceptive pills, Hana and Lovima, available without a prescription in pharmacies.
Other countries in Europe where hormonal contraception is legally accessible without a prescription include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Moldova and Ukraine.
However, according to EPF, some of these countries still face challenges in terms of access to modern, effective and affordable contraception.
Davidashvili said that the reason is that these countries don’t put efforts into informing and educating about contraception through clear and accurate publicly-funded websites and sexual education initiatives.
What to know about the birth control pill
Research shows that oral contraceptives are one of the leading forms of contraception used in Europe.
They are also used by some to address medical issues such as hormonal imbalance, painful periods, PCOS and endometriosis.
The hormonal birth control pill does come with its share of side effects ranging from mood swings to blood clots.
According to experts, common side effects while on the pill include irregular bleeding, nausea, breast tenderness, and potentially some weight change in either direction.
In some small cases, people may experience much more serious complications such as blood clots, which can travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, or reach the brain and cause a stroke.
Studies have also associated the birth control pill with an increased risk of certain cancers, specifically of the breast, cervix, and liver.
However, some experts believe that the pill’s benefits may outweigh its side effects, especially in cases where women use it for medical conditions.
For contraception, there exist alternatives to the birth control pill such as female or male condoms - which come with the added benefit of preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) - and non-hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs).