Free birth control wins public support

NICOLA RUSSELL
Last updated 09:05 13/05/2012

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The public is right behind the Government's plans to stop beneficiaries having babies.

Although critics have attacked the decision to provide free contraception for beneficiaries, two polls show the public loves the idea.

Nearly 80 per cent of respondents in a Sunday Star-Times reader poll supported funding long-term reversible contraception for female beneficiaries and their 16 to 19-year-old daughters. More than half wanted the Government to go further.

And a Research New Zealand poll found 65 per cent support, and that while those on low incomes were less likely to favour the proposal, there was still 54 per cent support among those earning less than $40,000.

But doubt still surrounds whether it will work.

South Auckland's Family Centre head Peter Sykes said the policy was unlikely to work, and public support wouldn't change that.

The centre works with the same beneficiaries the scheme targets, and he said many of them did not take advantage of already available support because they were "not engaged" with doctors or primary health providers.

"I support sexual education, contraception and choice being easily available through your doctor, but people still have to engage.

"We know which families are involved, so why don't we talk to them, rather than telling them what to do, or dangling a carrot they don't even know is for them?

"A lot of our families aren't beneficiaries. They don't utilise the education sector and they tend to live in overcrowded houses. It's a poverty situation we need to focus on."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she hoped the publicity around the scheme would increase awareness. "We have done more in raising awareness of what's out there for women in the last five days than in the last year."

Auckland University economics associate professor Susan St John said family planning had always been subsidised.

"I don't see that as a problem, but I do see it as a problem that some women are picked on because of their circumstances, because it all contributes to that view that they are the `other'."

She said the scheme needed to be properly targeted or offered to everyone.

"John Key has said we know who is involved, so why not engage directly rather than this generic stuff? Either that or contraception is subsidised for everyone."

Family Planning supported the move but chief executive Jackie Edmonds also said the offer should not be restricted to beneficiaries.

"There are a lot of young women on low incomes who should have access. We know from overseas data that having options increases uptake. We would prefer every woman had the choice."

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She said women from all walks of life would take up the offer. When Jadelle – a hormone implant in the arm – was introduced at a cost of $250 about 18 months ago, "young women really took to them".

"We were putting in hundreds of implants and now we are putting in 4000," Edmonds said.

Bennett defended singling out beneficiaries, saying they were the most likely to be living in poverty, and should be "thinking quite seriously" about whether they could afford more children.

20 YEARS OF THE SNIP

Free vasectomies have been offered to male beneficiaries since the early 1990s.

Questions were raised over why last week's contraception offer was aimed at women, and more than 80 per cent of poll respondents also wanted men targeted.

But Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's office said vasectomy funding had been available for 20 years.

Bennett said because women were most affected by pregnancy, they needed the support.

"I agree it is a mutual responsibility, but women want to take responsibility for their own bodies and choices, and this means they can, because it is not saying it's all their fault, rather that it's them who ends up carrying the baby, so they want to be sure they take precautions."

She said although men could receive funded vasectomies, women always took a risk in trusting a man was safe.

"I have women tell me their partner said not to worry because everything was safe. Are you going to take that risk?"

Auckland University economics associate professor Susan St John said "conservative stereotyping" gave women 99 per cent of the responsibility for contraception.

"It's hard to understand. If you say you shouldn't have another child while on a benefit, then surely a man shouldn't father another child while he still has a child supported by a benefit. But at the moment he can go off and form a second family, and have as many children as he likes."

- Sunday Star Times

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