Women to have access to free contraception from 2021 – Minister
Harris receives working group report, but legislation, regulation, negotiation needed
Minister for Health, Simon Harris: ‘It is my policy objective to make contraception free in 2021 and that is what I would like to see happen.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Free contraception for women will be available from 2021, Minister for Health Simon Harris has told the Dáil.
He said legislation would be necessary and there were regulatory and policy issues that had to be dealt with “when it comes to the female side of contraception”.
Negotiations on fees might also be required with pharmacists for the provision of services.
The Minister received “in recent days” the report of the working group he established in April to consider the issue. He pledged to publish the document this month once he had considered it fully and said it would be helpful for the Oireachtas health committee to also discuss the report.
“It is my policy objective to make contraception free in 2021 and that is what I would like to see happen,” Mr Harris told Solidarity TD Mick Barry, who raised the issue during health question time.
The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution on abortion recommended the provision of free contraception and Mr Harris established the working group to examine policy, legislative and regulatory issues on access to contraception.
The working group also made a number of recommendations on how to reduce the costs of accessing contraception.
Mr Harris said significant progress had been made on male contraception in terms of condoms. “We have very significantly increased the amount of condoms being distributed.
“We are putting vending machines into a number of locations throughout the country and our sexual health strategy very much aligns with this, not only in terms of reducing crisis pregnancy but in terms of reducing STIs (sexually transmitted infections) which are at a worrying level in our country.”
Most forms of contraception including long-acting reversible contraceptives are provided free to those with medical cards, “so we are not starting from a point of nobody having free access”. One third of the population have a medical card, he said, adding that 124,379 people availed of free contraceptive drugs and special services last year.
Mr Barry said he would have liked to have seen the report before the budget and asked if there was funding for contraception in 2020.
The Minister told him the budget was framed in the context of a no-deal Brexit and a range of related health policy issues were affected.
It would become clear when people saw the report that if the Oireachtas pressed “go” on this, “much of 2020 would be taken up with the need to legislate in this area and also the need to engage with the healthcare professionals involved”.
The Solidarity TD also said, “Ireland is an outlier in terms of maintaining a cost barrier for women to have access to contraception”.
But Mr Harris said the European contraception atlas for this year ranked Ireland 12th of 46 countries “and gave the Government a rating of 65 per cent for our policies and access to contraceptive supplies, family planning counselling and the provision of online information on contraception, so we are making progress in this regard.”