If you find yourself needing emergency contraception in Italy, it’s not a simple matter of popping into a pharmacy and asking for the morning-after pill – you’re going to need a prescription from a doctor first.
In order to get this prescription you have a choice: either visit a private clinic, or trust in the public health system. For a visiting tourist, this latter option usually means a visit to the ER.
Italians generally tend to rely on public health care for emergencies, but will visit private clinics – which are relatively inexpensive – for smaller matters, simply because it’s so much easier, more efficient and reliable. For many, the public healthcare is a fall-back; not something to be used unless you have to.
When it comes to emergency contraception, Italian public healthcare can be fine.
One friend visited Florence’s major hospital, flashed her European Healthcare Card at them, waited 20 minutes then was simply handed a prescription, and all was well and dandy. However, another friend visited the very same hospital, was told to wait, was told that there was nowhere else in Florence she could get the prescription that day (totally untrue, but this girl has only recently arrived in Italy and didn’t know this), and after seven hours still hadn’t seen a doctor – and was in fact still last on the waiting list, as every new patient was being prioritized ahead of her “unimportant” need for emergency contraception. So you can see how relying on the public health service in such matters as this can be viewed as a bit of a gamble.
Add to this the fact that in Catholic Italy, doctors are not legally obliged to prescribe emergency contraception if they are “morally opposed” to it – meaning that you could foreseeably find yourself being refused the prescription even after a frustrating wait – and you can see why for many, it’s not a gamble they’re willing to take.
Visiting a private doctor in Italy can be advantageous for a number of reasons.
As mentioned before, private doctors in Italy are not going to cripple you financially: consulting a doctor at the public hospital in Florence costs €25, whilst visiting a private doctor for a simple thing like contraception will only be marginally more expensive, usually at around €30-50.
But the advantages to visiting private doctors are plentiful: seeing a private doctor means you can opt to find a English-speaking private health clinic, should your Italian not be up to scratch, and you can book a same-day appointment, so you know you’ll be getting the contraception quickly. Quite often there are student or youth discounts available too.
If you can, check to see if the contraception is available on offer at the clinic before making your appointment, to be sure you won’t be refused.
When you find yourself in need of emergency contraception, you want to get it as soon as you can. And for that reason, I’d recommend booking an appointment with a private clinic as opposed to heading to the nearest ER, to be sure of avoiding any unwanted delays or unpleasantness. Your peace of mind if worth a little extra cost.