Health Minister Simon Harris has flagged up the possibility several times that the State might provide contraception for free as a way of tackling the number of unwanted pregnancies. He asked a working group to report back on the matter and it has done just that. Unfortunately for him, it has cast serious doubt on whether such a proposal “represents the optimal use of funds on a purely cost-benefit basis”.
The working group said the cost of a ‘free’ scheme could be between €80 million and €100 million per annum. It said the vast majority of people don’t have difficulty accessing contraception and that if it was provided for free, the take-up rate might not increase. All that might happen is that people paying for their own contraception now would have them paid for by the public instead, making no overall difference to the overall use of contraception. For those on lower incomes, contraception is already covered by the Medical Card.
The Iona Institute has previously argued that there is no strong evidence showing that making contraception free to the public would reduce rates of unwanted pregnancy. It’s good to see the working group agree with us.
Will Simon Harris now see sense, or press on with the scheme anyway, even though the money could clearly be put to far better use?
Interestingly, the report of the working group also looks at the ‘perfect use’ failure rate of various forms of contraception versus the ‘typical use’ failure rate. They are very different.
For example, the perfect use failure rate for condoms is only 2pc, but out in the real world of imperfect people, it is 18pc, or nine times higher. The real world failure rate of the pill is 9pc.
A few years ago, Pure in Heart, which promotes a Christian vision of sexuality to teenagers, was roundly attacked for telling people that the condom has a one in six failure rate. They were accused of peddling false information.
In fact, they were perfectly correct, and their critics owe them a big apology.
When the planned new RSE programme goes into schools, in whatever form it takes, pupils should be taught about the real-life failure rate of various forms of contraception, which is exactly what Pure in Heart were doing. In this regard, they were the ones teaching the facts of life.