The last time my condom broke in Berlin was on a Friday, the day after a national holiday, and in order to get my hands on emergency contraception (a.k.a. “the morning-after pill” or “Die Pille Danach”)
I had to endure: one general practitioner, three Frauenärtze, one private clinic, one hospital with two tiny waiting rooms packed full of sick people, and one pharmacist, all-in-all totalling half a working day and much more than my daily reserve of patience and sanity.
Welcome to the 21st Century, Germany!
One receptionist shook her head disapprovingly and asked me why I don’t take the birth control pill. I blinked a couple of times and my lips pressed together to form a forced smile through which I told her that I don’t take the pill because I find it inconvenient to take something every day of my life, at the same time of day, which lowers my libido and causes me to gain weight in order have sex. I tell her, because I use condoms. And finally, I remind her that I could have been raped. I think maybe what she was really getting at was not her concern over my regular birth control method, but her displeasure with my being a dirty slut who fucks outside the sanctity of holy matrimony for non-procreative reasons.
Is this a true emergency?
A friend of mine had it even worse. She took a guy home on a Friday night and their condom broke around 6am. They went to the emergency room at the hospital and the staff told her it was not a true emergency (ignoring the “emergency” part of “emergency contraception”), and that she would have to wait around six hours to get the prescription, because a woman was in labor. She was supposed to leave for Hamburg in less than a couple of hours for her dad’s birthday, so she decided to go ahead to Hamburg and get the script as soon as she came back to Berlin.
On Sunday evening, after she returned, she went to a different hospital straight away, and lo and behold, they said they couldn’t prescribe her the drug because the gynecologist had already gone home for the evening. They told her not to worry (ha!) and advised her that she should still be safe if she goes to her regular gynaecologist the next day, after work (this was false information. Emergency contraception (EC) is less effective the later it’s taken). On Monday, after work, she went to her regular gynaecologist and was given prescription. She went to the pharmacist and finally got the drug on Monday evening.
Until last month, EC was only available with a gynecologist’s prescription
A protocol was supposedly developed so that a doctor on call could make the consultation needed for EC, but that was obviously not the case with the two emergency clinics that my friend visited. Friendly general practitioners would also write prescriptions, but for the most part, it had to come from a gynaecologist. This meant an incredible and unnecessary pain in the ass at best and an unplanned pregnancy or abortion at worst. Nights, weekends, and holidays; living in rural or Catholic areas; and being uninsured or on a low income are all factors which can make it impossible to get the drug in time (or at all) in a system where a prescription is needed.
EC is not an abortion pill
The way that all EC works is, the faster you take it, the more likely it is to prevent a pregnancy. Contrary to popular myth, EC is not an abortion pill. A pregnancy can be prevented, but not terminated, just like regular birth control pills, condoms, vaginal rings, etc. According to the World Health Organization, EC only works before the sperm fertilizes the egg, it can’t interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo.
After sex, it can take up to six days for the egg and sperm to meet. EC pills primarily work by disrupting ovulation, by keeping the egg from being released until later than usual. They may also prevent the fertilization of an egg by weakening sperm. If there’s no egg to meet the sperm, there’s no baby.
There are two types of EC pills
There are only two types of EC pills now available from the pharmacist in Germany without a script for Mädchen who are 14 and older (girls under 14 still have to see a gynecologist for a prescription): “PiDaNa” and “elleOne”. PiDaNa costs around €18 and is effective up to three days (72 hours) after unprotected sex, and elleOne can be taken within five days (120 hours) of unprotected sex and costs around €35. Neither are covered by German health insurance, just like regular birth control since 2004 (!?!), but it you’re under 20 and poor, you might be able to get it for free (with a script from the doctor, of course).
Planned Parenthood and I recommend getting EC ahead of time so it’s always on hand when you need it. You never know when you’ll need it. The pharmacy might be closed or you could be in the middle of nowhere, in nature, or maybe visiting a country that doesn’t have easy access to the drugs (like Italy or Poland). EC has a shelf life of up to 3 years, so save yourself some stress and get it before you need it.
Studies have all found the EC to be safe
Critics of making EC more accessible have argued that easier access to the drug will increase risky behavior and replace more effective methods of birth control, but a French study of 2863 French women and 272 instances of EC pill use found this theory unsubstantiated. Others claim that EC is dangerous, but the World Health Organization, Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, and numerous studies have all found it to be safe.
Since we know that EC is safe, why does Germany have the age restriction and why is it only possible for the lady in jeopardy to get it from the pharmacist? Guys should be able to pick up EC for their female sex partners. By making it only available for the woman to get, the burden is all on us. We already carry the burden of potential pregnancy, unwanted or otherwise, isn’t that enough?
Banging Berlin is a monthly column by Mary Katharine Tramontana.
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