Opinion: The government's free contraception initiative falls short in many ways
While the contraception initiative is a step in the right direction, it also illustrates the work that has to be done.
Yesterday, during the launch of Budget 2022, Ireland's Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath announced that, from next year, women between the ages of 17 and 25 will be able to access free contraceptives as part of the Dedicated Women's Health Package.
From next August, the pill will be free of charge, although a €1.50 prescription fee will apply. The initiative also covers the cost for fitting and removing long-term contraceptives, such as the implant, as well as two GP consultations regarding contraception.
While the move is certainly a step in the right direction, many pointed out its very limited scope.
For starters, the initiative is only available to women, and only within that age range.
Noting this limitation, People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy told the Dáil that people over this age also have sex, and some do not want to have children.
Finally, the government pledged to fund free contraception - but with very odd strings attached.
Why is it only available for women, and only up to 25.?
When will the government realise children and family planning aren't the sole responsibility of women? pic.twitter.com/sUtsj5WNDn
— Paul Murphy (@paulmurphy_TD) October 12, 2021
Taking to Twitter he wrote: "Finally, the government pledged to fund free contraception - but with very odd strings attached. Why is it only available for women, and only up to 25?
"When will the government realise children and family planning aren't the sole responsibility of women?"
Indeed, the cut-off point seems to suggest that every woman over the age of 25 in Ireland either has the financial security to cover the cost of contraceptives, or no longer requires them. This is not the case. For instance, research put out by Social Justice Ireland in 2020 determined that there are currently 637,000 people living in poverty in this country. Moreover, the current cost of living in Ireland is 36% above the EU average, while our housing costs remain the highest in the EU.
Another limitation is that the initiative only includes hormonal contraceptives, which are only effective at preventing pregnancy, and not STIs.
Responding to concerns about the limited scope of the free contraception initiative, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin told The Journal, that the measure could "perhaps" be expanded in the future, but added: "We can't do everything in one budget."
Ireland's approach to contraception falls short, particularly when compared to other countries. Our neighbours in the UK, for instance, are able to access contraception for free through the NHS, with no limits on age or gender.
While the contraception initiative is a step in the right direction, it also illustrates the work that has to be done in terms of improving access to women's heatlhcare - and healthcare generally - in Ireland.