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Press Release

Minister for Health publishes Report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception

Published: 29 October 2019
From: Department of Health

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD has today published the Report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception.

The Minister established the Group earlier this year to consider the policy, regulatory and legislative issues relating to enhanced access to contraception, following the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

Publishing the report, the Minister said:

“I want to thank my department for this piece of work and to those who contributed through the public consultation. The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment recommended free contraception and we have made significant progress in this regard."
“In 2018, more than 409,300 condoms and 288,000 lubricant sachets were delivered through the National Condom Distribution Service to organisations working directly with people at increased risk of unplanned pregnancy or STIs. Later this year, we will expand this service and introduce vending machines across third level colleges to increase the distribution of free condoms and further promote safer sex among young people."
“This report provides us with a clear overview of the challenges involved in providing free contraception but also a clear pathway to doing so. I strongly believe cost should not be a barrier to accessing contraception.”

The Minister acknowledged that the cost to the state of introducing a free contraception scheme would be significant and welcomed the report’s consideration of other options to reduce the costs involved in accessing contraception.

Minister Harris said:

“It is important to note that the report says that there are considerations beyond the economic that should be taken into account when developing policy in this area, and this is something with which I wholeheartedly agree.”

The Minister thanked the Group for their work and expressed his appreciation to all those who had taken part in the public consultation, particularly the expert stakeholders who had taken the time to provide very detailed and helpful submissions as part of the engagement process.

“I now intend to further consider the report and intend to ask the Oireachtas Health Committee to examine the report."
“I will continue to work with my department officials to move forward on this issue and I hope to make progress in this regard next year.”


Notes to the Editor:

The Working Group was established in April 2019 and consisted of officials from relevant policy areas within the Department of Health.

The Group’s remit was to consider the range of policy, regulatory and legislative issues arising in relation to improving access to contraception.

The report draws on the outcome of stakeholder engagement and a review of research literature to focus on the barriers that exist to accessing contraception and the mechanisms available to overcome those barriers.

Some key messages in the report are as follows:

  • the policy issues arising around improved access to contraception are complex and multi-faceted
  • barriers to accessing contraception do exist for some people, including lack of local access, cost, embarrassment, inconvenience and lack of knowledge. However, the vast majority of people can and do access contraception without any difficulty and contraception use in Ireland is high and stable
  • evidence suggests that there is not a widespread affordability issue, with only 3% of respondents in the Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy Study 2010 identifying cost as a barrier to contraception. The impact of cost is, however, possibly more significant in terms of behaviour (that is choice of contraceptive) rather than access per se
  • simply making contraception free to the user is not necessarily a solution, and it is essential that any policy proposal focuses on accessibility, education and workforce capacity as well as cost

The costs of providing a State funded scheme (based on the existing GMS service) to women aged 16-44 is estimated at €80-€100 million. There is potential for some savings in relation to the avoidance of unplanned or crisis pregnancy, but it is unlikely that a universal scheme at no cost to users could be justified from a cost-benefit perspective given the opportunity cost and the likelihood that much of any spending would simply displace or substitute private expenditure without any healthcare gain.

The justification for any scheme would therefore have to rest on social or societal considerations rather than economic ones.

The report concludes by presenting policy options for consideration and by highlighting the need for further analysis and appraisal.

Report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception


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