Accidents happen, and for one reason or another, my boyfriend and I recently found ourselves driving to a local pharmacy together, nervous and filled with a sense of embarassment. I know that I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about when requesting emergency contraception and that I have every right to complete control over my own reproductive system. This is not to say that I don’t still have to speak to friends of mine who are in tears when they return from the pharmacy because they feel looked down upon. I’d ask, why do we continue to accept a system that forces women to discuss their sexual activity with a complete stranger, in a public place? Not to mention the financial cost. This is certainly means that emergency contraception is not accessible or affordable for everyone.
Due to the embarrassment we are made to feel when we fear that we may risk an unplanned pregnancy, it can be difficult to find the motivation and courage to get to a clinic where the morning after pill will be handed out free of charge, and for women with disabilities or lack of access to transport this simply isn’t possible. Pharmacist companies say that speaking to a pharmacist is necessary for a woman’s health, but I would suggest this kind of blatant humiliation is horribly sexist and takes the control of a woman’s body out of her hands. I personally feel that I am capable of deciding whether or not I require additional birth control that has no long-term health implications, and to suggest otherwise is frankly, offensive.
I recently experienced a local *well known pharmacy’s unhelpful system for myself and was shocked by how rudely I was treated. It was a Thursday night and I was about to take my contraceptive pill before bed as I usually do. When I picked up the packet I spotted my pill for Tuesday still inside. I remembered that I had been home late that night and had pretty much collapsed into my bed as soon as I got home. I must have just forgotten as humans sometimes do. I looked up at my boyfriend in horror and told him what I had found. It was ten o’clock at night by this point and I knew there was no chance of getting a morning after pill in the same way I had before, and I wasn’t entirely sure which of the available two I would need. A quick scan of the internet reassured me that *the well known pharmacy branch was twenty minutes away had an out-of-hours service, so we headed there immediately.
On arrival I spotted a promising sticker in the window that said, ‘Free emergency contraception for women under 25.’
I am a woman under 25, I pressed the buzzer and waited. A man’s voice crackled through a speaker above my head, and I had to shout into a microphone in order to ask for the pill I needed. Whilst this was a shopping centre at night, the whole exchange was a lot more public than I would have liked. The man on the other end of the microphone refused to give me any kind of emergency contraception, but all he could say was ‘I cannot give you that!’ He didn’t provide an explanation or an apology. After a few minutes of back and forth, which included me pointing out the sticker, the man came to the window. I was given the filthiest look and the man who was wearing a ‘pharmacist’ badge told me that he was not a pharmacist and that he would not be giving me the morning after pill. According to him, the ‘only’ way I could get one would be to provide a prescription. I must add that he looked at me as though I were dirt throughout this exchange and spoke in a manner that implied I was stupid. I felt so alone and helpless during this exchange and couldn’t help thinking of myself as entirely alone in this process; after all, as a woman, the matter of birth control is often perceived as resting entirely on my shoulders. Felling tearful, I went and sat in the car to dial the NHS non-emergency line for advice.
Whilst the people from the NHS were very nice, they were unable to get a prescription sent to the chemist in time for me to collect a pill. Each person I spoke to could not understand why I had been refused access to contraception, and obviously neither could I.
My experiences that night really brought to my attention the way in which women are continually denied agency over their own bodies and the way large corporations and pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to take advantage of vulnerability. Something needs to change and organisations like the *well known pharmacy need to address their attitude to women if we are to make any progress towards having full control over our reproductive rights without being shamed, mistreated or denied access to birth control. How long are the people of the UK willing to shame women for being sexually active, and when will we realise access to free birth control is an essential step towards equality?
A Cohort 4 Woman – under 25!