Across Europe, there are different policies regarding access to emergency contraception (EC), which affect the legal status of EC generally as well as which type of emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are available and how they can be accessed.
Changes in access in the European Union zone
Up until December 2014, women from different countries of the European Union (EU) had varying degrees of access to EC methods. Women in Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland needed to visit a health care provider in order to obtain a prescription before purchasing levonorgestrel (LNG) ECPs. In 22 EU countries, women could only purchase LNG ECPs in pharmacies, but in some countries, such as the Netherlands or Sweden LNG ECPs could also be bought from drugstores and other types of convenient stores. In Malta, ECPs were not licensed and were therefore unavailable.
Also up until December 2014, in all EU countries except for Malta and Estonia, ulipristal acetate (UPA) ECPs, present on the European market since 2009, were available by prescription-only. Italy was the only EU country that, in addition to a prescription, required a mandatory pregnancy test before women could obtain UPA ECPs.
Upon request of the manufacturer, in November 2014 the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) recommended a change in classification status from prescription to non-prescription for UPA ECPs. The marketing authorisation for UPA ECPs (centralised for all EU countries at the EMA) was amended. In January 2015 the European Commission issued an implementing decision which was the last step to allow the sales of UPA ECPs without prescription in all the EU territory.
While the European Commission’s decision is not legally binding and does not create new obligations to the EU Member States with regards to EC accessibility, in most EU countries, the decision was followed, and UPA ECPs are since then available directly in the pharmacies. One year after the Commission decision (November 2015), the situation regarding ECPs in the EU was the following:
- UPA ECPs were available without prescription in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Age restrictions were set in at least 3 countries: Croatia and Italy (for women younger than 18) and Poland (for women younger than 15).
- In the Baltic subregion, the marketing authorisation process took longer in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and UPA ECPs were not available in these countries for a while.
- In Hungary, in January 2015, the government informed that, due to patient safety considerations, it would continue to require a prescription for all types of EC.
- Malta remained with no ECPs product registered nor available.
- LNG ECPs remained a prescription drug in Hungary and Poland. In Croatia, Germany and Italy since October 2015, at least one brand of LNG ECPs had be switch to non-prescription status.
Other changes took place in specific EU countries in the following years:
- Malta: In June 2016 the Women’s Rights Foundation filled a judicial protest to request access to ECP. After an intense debate, in October the Maltese Medicines Authority announced the approval of the sale of EC pills without mandatory prescription in order to ensure quality, safety and efficacy. By December 2016 both UPA and LNG ECPs could already be purchased at the local pharmacies without prescription.
- Poland: In June 2017, disregarding EU’s Commission decision, the Polish government restated mandatory prescription for UPA ECPs. This type of ECPs were directly available from pharmacies in Poland only between April 2015 and July 2017, but since then women, again, need to visit a doctor and get a prescription before obtaining any type of ECPs.
For more information on EC access regionally or in specific countries, please visit the Country-by-Country Information page on this website, or the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception’s Status & Availability Database by clicking here. See also:
- Access to emergency contraception in some countries of the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. (2017)
- An update on access to emergency contraception in European Union countries. (April 2016)
The information on this page is based on surveys carried out by ECEC in 2012, updated in 2015, and later (again) for specific countries. If any of the above information has changed or if you have more details to share about your country, please email us at cpuig [at] eeirh [dot] org.
Last update: October 2018