Teen contraception proposal discussed


A LAW Reform Commission proposal to allow teenagers aged 16-17 access to contraception and confidentiality would not have the desired effect of reducing pregnancy rates among minors, a British academic argued in Dublin last night.

Prof David Patton, of the Nottingham University Business School, said that, based on experience of similar regulations in England and Wales, the proposals could have the unintended consequence of contributing to an increased rate of sexual activity.

He said academic evidence from the US suggested that more than 8 per cent of contraceptive pill users and 17.4 per cent of condom users would experience pregnancy over a 12-month period.

“Combined with the high failure rates of contraception noted above, fewer pregnancies from greater use of birth control are counterbalanced by more pregnancies arising from more sexual activity,” he said.

A paper, dealing with legal issues around medical treatment for children, published by the Commission in December made 20 provisional recommendations.

These included that 16- and 17-year-olds should be presumed to have full capacity and that a child aged 14-16 could, subject to certain requirements, be regarded as capable of consenting to healthcare provided he or she had the capacity to understand the nature and consequences of it. Speaking at a lecture organised by the pro-family Iona Institute, Dr Patton said teenage birth and pregnancy rates in Ireland were extremely low in comparison to England and Wales, about one sixth of the figure, and that there was little evidence of the situation worsening.

“The low pregnancy rate amongst minors in Ireland is so striking that caution is surely warranted before making significant changes to the legal position surrounding access to contraception for minors,” he said. “Despite the illegality of abortion in Ireland, birth rates for under-16s are also very significantly lower in Ireland than in England.” A poll of 1,000 people, conducted on behalf of the Iona Institute, found 77 per cent of the public were against the commission’s proposals.