The National Women’s Council has praised new legislation to provide free contraception to some women, but will continue to lobby for a universal policy.
Yesterday President Michael D. Higgins signed off on the legislation which will see free contraception rolled out for women aged 17 to 25 from September, with the intention of extending this to older cohorts over time.
Alana Ryan, Women’s Health Coordinator at the National Women’s Council, told Newstalk Breakfast this morning that, while the new legislation is positive, “it can only be the start”.
“We’ve been saying this since the budget commitment last year," she said. "We need to see that phased rollout so everyone can benefit, and that’s why we’re calling for, in 2023, the next cohort to be brought into the scheme.”
“Abortion is free healthcare and that’s so important, but the missing piece of the puzzle is the contraception. We need to be ensuring that the risk of unplanned pregnancy is reduced and that means removing the cost barrier.”
Ms Ryan emphasised the importance of the new legislation for low-income women, as the most effective forms of birth control can cost up to €500.
However, she does not believe that means testing is the way forward.
“The pragmatic solution here is to do it on a continuous age-based cohort.”
“Means testing is always problematic and there will always be women who fall outside of that. That’s why we’re advocating for a universal rollout.”
The cost of consultations to discuss suitable contraception options and obtain a prescription will also be waived.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has indicated that adolescents will not be excluded from the provisions.
Currently, all medical card holders can avail of free contraception, including contraceptive injections, implants, IUS and IUDs (coils), the contraceptive patch and emergency contraception.
Ryan said: “I think that what they’re doing with the age cohort makes sense because when we look at the impact of the COVID pandemic, it was disproportionately young women who bore the brunt of it.”
The new act will also abolish overnight and day case public in-patient charges for children under the age of 16 in public hospitals.
In a press statement, Mr Donnelly said: "I welcome the good news that the President has signed this very important Act, as the measures provided in this legislation are very much intended to support access to care for those who need it in a manner that is fair and affordable.”
"In the context of current cost-of-living challenges, I am delighted to be able to introduce these two significant measures aimed at alleviating cost pressures for individuals and families when seeking to access healthcare."
Main image shows a woman holding contraception medication.