The Bitterest Pill



From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

Dear Broadsheet Readers,

My sister recently completed an honours degree after 5 years (1 repeat). It was a difficult slog for her as she battled with mental health issues throughout the last 2 years of the course. They were triggered by the deaths of two people close to us in quick succession.

With the help of counselling sessions, family members and medication she managed to get her degree and once the pressure of the last year of college was over her mental health improved significantly and she was back to her usual self.

She felt ready to begin her masters and has enrolled for the coming year.

Concerned about her mental health deteriorating again once the course starts she went to our local GP to get the contraceptive pill as it helps keep her hormones/emotions/mood in check.

And this is why I’m contacting you – the GP refused to give her the contraceptive pill because it’s “against her beliefs”. Just flat out refused. Needless to say my sister left the surgery a little embarrassed and upset.

Surely in 2017 this cannot be acceptable from a GP? Or is it? From my sister’s point of view she didn’t seek the pill as a lifestyle choice – she was seeking it for her mental health. And it is a difficult subject for her to discuss.

I’d like to point out that the GP’s practice is in a city and would be quite busy. My sister used to get her pill from the doctor near her college so this was her first (and last) time asking our family doctor for it!


Pic: Shutterstock

97 thoughts on “The Bitterest Pill

  1. scottser

    a strongly-worded letter to the medical council would be in order, methinks. that’s outrageous from a doctor, who’s main responsibility is to put his patient’sr health needs above his own petty concerns.

    1. mildred st. meadowlark

      My sister-in-law has had similar contraception issues with her own doc. Refusing to insert a mirena because he was (apparently) out of practice with ‘that sort of thing’, and telling her contraception is ‘unnecessary’ as she’s a married woman now.

        1. mildred st. meadowlark


          I recommended my own GP, who is a true sweetheart. One of those docs who really, genuinely care about the welfare of her patients.

    2. Happy Molloy

      Agreed. I don’t think it should be illegal but think that such GPs should have a requirement to clearly display their limitations due to their belief system so as to ensure they won’t waste their patients time.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        Grand. So some folks in parts of Kerry and Connaught will have to travel hours if all their local doctors put up those signs then. That’s definitely a fair idea.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Exactly. It is a responsibility, not a commercial business or personal hobby. Doctors have a *duty*. If they’re not ok with that, as you said, they shouldn’t be doctors.

      2. ahjayzis

        Sure, I’ll go along with that. So long as they’re then banned from the GMS scheme and recieve not a jot of public money.

        Presumably we should have little signs over the hatches in registry offices for officials who’ll refuse to issue a marriage license to gays or divorcees too?

    3. Karen

      Genuinely not being petty, but love the default assumption that the GP is a male. It even says “it’s against her beliefs” in the piece.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        Well it’s going to be one or the other isn’t it? And most doctors to tend to be men. And everything is a projection of yourself.

        1. Brother Barnabas

          Medical Council report from 2013 says that 53% of doctors working in Ireland are female, actually.

    1. rotide

      Seeing as OP can just go to any other GP and get sorted it’s almost completely unlike catholic Iran in any way.

        1. dav

          but not surprising really, the hatred of some towards women and their reproductive rights is ingrained in many

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            With this little fella, I think it’s a pathalogical need to revere authority and to separate himself from the great unwashed. All his posts are about putting people in their place…which is why it’s so much fun to put him in his.

      1. realPolithicks

        The fact that she has to go to another GP for such a simple thing gives the lie to your argument.

          1. realPolithicks

            Actually it doesn’t at all. Your problem is that you’re not even a fraction as smart as you think you are.

  2. zackersetu

    Perhaps she could have gotten a prescription for prayer instead! Such utter anachronistic BS has no place in modern medicine.

    So utterly disappointing.

  3. Janet, I ate my avatar

    I remember being treated like absolute dirt by a young female doctor in Ireland about 18 years ago in relation to the morning after pill. Added a ridiculous amount of distress to a situation she had no details about or neither sought to ask.
    You are not there to judge you are there to doctor.
    I’m so outraged to think this kind of crap still goes on.

    1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

      I had to go and get the MAP for a friend as she was too embarrassed to be seen even going to the clinic (this was well over 20 years ago). As I left, I bumped into her brother as I was literally walking out of the doorway. Cue ME being totally embarrassed, but couldn’t say “Not for me, twas for your SISTER, the dirty stopout’.
      True story.

        1. mildred st. meadowlark

          I enjoyed it nonetheless.

          My mother sent me to the doc to be put on the pill, as she is a lady of boundless good sense. The doc couldn’t quite believe that, so I had to call my mammy at work, from the doctor’s office.

          It’s as if they don’t want us to be having safe sex.

          1. mildred st. meadowlark

            I was 15. I still call her mammy though. Or maaaaah, if she’s being a pain in the arse.

          2. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            Jeez, your Mum was on the ball.
            Though to be honest, my Mum probably was too and knew I wasn’t getting a sniff of it.
            *sad face*

          3. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            …to be kind.
            Only joking. Let’s go and get MASHED on stupid drinks like Snakebites!

  4. rotide

    What a complete @rsehole.

    At least the easy answer is just go to another doctor and tell her to go whistle for the 50 blips

    1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

      In an ideal world, that would be the correct way to deal with it. But this girl is obviously a gentle soul and probably not capable of being the ballsy kinda gal who’d do that.

      1. rotide

        Well we’ve been told she went to another doctor, I just hope she stiffed the quack or at least left an IOU payable in the afterlife.

      2. MoyestWithExcitement

        Also how is she supposed to know she won’t get the same response from the next doctor? How far will she have to travel before finding one who isn’t a religous freak. Conservatives really don’t have a clue how the world actually works.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            You haven’t heard of it happening? Well then she definitely won’t have to travel far so. I hope she’s reading this.

          2. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

            Get off your high horse. Are you implying that most doctors won’t prescribe the pill?Nonsense.

          3. MoyestWithExcitement

            You just decided that she doesn’t have to worry about other doctors because YOU haven’t heard of this happening before but I’m the one on my high horse? Ok then. And no, that’s not what I’m implying. Sweet jehovah.

        1. rotide

          Seeing as she was already prescribed the pill previously, I think she had a fair idea of how the world actually works rather than the imaginary worst case scenario in your head.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            A suitably ‘deep’ comment for 4/20. Of course I shall get actually baked later on. Really really baked.

  5. Fitzitagain

    Sadly a Doctor can still refuse to prescribe the pill if it goes against their own beliefs. However they are obliged to refer you to another Doctor who will and be non judgmental about it. If they fail to refer you can complain to the medical council. Shocking really in this day and age.

          1. paul


            if anyone encounters such a medic, feel free to seek aid at another GP. Don’t feel that you have to return to the same GP as it’s your ‘family doctor’. I attended the same gobpoo for years for the above reason. Changed doc maybe 8 years ago and was immediately surprised at the quality and value of GP’s out there.

        1. Malta

          Yes, this. I was going to say “name and shame” but the idiot doctor is probably proud.
          As someone said above, if they are allowed to refuse certain services, they should be made declare it, be put on a register and put a sign up.

  6. Spaghetti Hoop

    A country fails miserably if its basic health and education provision is dominated by religious dogma. Straight to the EU courts with this one, Anon.

  7. Daisy Chainsaw

    It shouldn’t matter if the contraceptive pill is being requested to have lots of sex, or for mental health reasons. It’s not a doctor’s place to judge. Have doctors ever refused medication because someone smokes 30 a day and has a chest infection? What about blood pressure meds and statins to fat people? It’s ridiculous that in the 21st century, some doctors are judgemental bumholes.

    I feel so sorry for your sister, anon poster and I hope she’s doing okay

  8. joak joke jik

    just as an aside, we don’t need the backstory. doctor refused to prescribe the pill. end of

  9. Anomanomanom

    I dont believe that happened. Because if happened to my family I would be naming the doctor. Also was it the first time she went to this particular GP.

  10. Niamh

    1. Your sister is certainly entitled to a refund of the cost of her visit, at the very least.
    2. In my experience the HSE (check their website) respond surprisingly fast and thoroughly to formal complaints via email. Legally, it is my understanding that the GP can refuse to write the prescription – but is then obliged to direct you to a colleague who will. That’s the law in pharmacies if the pharmacist refuses on conscientious grounds to dispense the morning-after pill.
    3. With respect, if complaining, the subject’s mental health history is not relevant or required to justify her request for the pill. She has a human and consumer right to access contraception, whether she’s been suffering or not – there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ family planner. If she announced her intention to go on the pill to facillitate participation in multiple orgies, this would still be perfectly legally acceptable.

  11. Junkface

    Name the city this happened in. It sounds completely illegal.

    Was it a Nun dressed as a doctor?

  12. ReproBertie

    A doctor letting their own belief decide the treatment of a patient? That’s gas! Just imagine where that sort of thing could lead. “Sorry but I’m going to let you die now because it’s possibly all part of the grand plan of this being I believe in.”

    Oh wait, that already happened.


  13. senzaparole

    Refusal to treat is covered by the medical council guidelines, section 39. They are required to offer you a referral to anther doctor for another opinion.
    Failure to follow should be reported to the medical council.

    “39.2 If you decide to refuse treatment, you should explain your reasons to the patient and offer
    them an opportunity to have your decision reviewed by another clinician. ”

  14. Lee

    You need to tell your sister to make a complaint. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lifestyle or for mental health issues. As far as I’m aware a doctor can’t have a conscionable objection to the contraceptive pill. The morning after pill is different because a life may have stated, and therefore a chemist could argue that they are assisting in destroying a life which they don’t agree with. But the pill is preventative so doctors can’t argue the same case.

  15. Claire

    If we are going to allow conscientious object for doctors there NEEDS to be rules and transparency.
    Such as a sign at reception when saying” Doctor Soandso will not prescribe contraception. Please let us know if you need a prescription so we can find you a different GP”.

    I find doctors can be very hit and miss. At my local GP I need to do checkups every 6 months and I occasionally bring up contraception. Some will just say the bare minimum and say I need to come back and talk to someone else. (paticuarly male) Last one I saw was great, a young female doctor – she immediately went to get me leaflets, asked about how my contraceptive pill was, and talked me through the pro’s and cons of the IUD and contraceptive implant.
    Though if your nervous about the doctors opinion I recommend places like Well Woman or Irish family planning association. I went there at 18 when I needed the morning after pill, and again at 25 for my first smear test. Specialized clinics are generally much better for these things.

    It’s well known among most Irish women that they will first get the contraceptive pill my describing certain symptoms – irregular periods, bad cramps, acne. etc – instead of asking outright. Family GPs HATE hearing that you’re sexuality active. Even after 18.

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