Free contraception for women aged 17-25 ‘a good first step’ – sexual health groups

National Women’s Council of Ireland describes move as ‘really welcome development’

As part of a € 31 million women’s health package announced on Tuesday, access to free contraception for those aged between 17 and 25 is being provided from August. Photograph: iStock

As part of a € 31 million women’s health package announced on Tuesday, access to free contraception for those aged between 17 and 25 is being provided from August. Photograph: iStock

 

Sexual health clinics and activist groups have welcomed the announcement that free contraception is to be provided for young women from next year under Budget 2022.

As part of a € 31 million women’s health package announced on Tuesday, access to free contraception for those aged between 17 and 25 is being provided from August.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland described the announcement as a “really welcome development that gives us a foundation on which to build”.

Universal contraception is something we’ve been campaigning for for a long time. Ultimately, we need contraception to be available and accessible to people across the whole of the reproductive age range and embed choice across the board,” Alanna Ryan, women’s health co-ordinator at NWCI said.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Ryan said the cost barrier has been the “most significant impediment” to reproductive rights.

The recognition around long-acting forms of contraception in yesterday’s announcement, like the copper coil or the implant, was “really welcome because evidence shows these are the most effective, but uptake in Ireland has been very low because of the high upfront cost,” she said.

Taking away that cost barrier for a younger age cohort was “a huge boost”.

“This is only the beginning and we need to keep pushing to ensure it does extend to a wider age range, so everybody who needs it can access it, including women and people in the trans community who menstruate,” Ms Ryan told The Irish Times.

Cost barrier

Access to free contraception was a recommendation made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment and was included in the Programme for Government in 2020 for women aged 17-25 years.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre gave a “cautious welcome” to its introduction.

It was a “good first step,” Well Woman’s chief executive Alison Begas said.

If the programme included funding long-acting forms of contraception, it would “take away the cost barrier for women aged 17-25 years, thus helping reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies” and giving women choice about when to become pregnant, she said.

However, it was a case of “much done, but more to do,” Ms Begas said.

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) also welcomed the budget announcement.

Removing the cost of contraception would “empower young women,” and would have a “very real impact on sexual and reproductive health” in the country, Niall Behan, chief executive of the IFPA said.

Looking to address some criticisms of the plan, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the Government would be starting with contraception for young women because reports and studies had concluded young women were disproportionately impacted by the cost barriers to contraception.

In a post on Twitter, Mr Donnelly said “Condoms are already freely available from public sexual health clinics and colleges/universities across the country. They do not require a prescription, or repeat visits to a doctor.”

“We will be covering the cost of medical consultations, prescription medication and the fitting and removal of LARCSs under this new scheme. Over time, I plan to extend access to other age groups. This is the first step,” he said.