Yesterday’s “Daily Telegraph” reported that the number of girls under 15 in England who have sought contraceptive implants has increased sixfold in just half a decade, according to government statistics. Nearly 5,000 teenagers below the age of consent were given the devices last year, compared with about 800 just five years ago.
The NHS Information Centre showed that about 7,400 girls aged 15 or under had implants or injections last year, up from 2,900 in 2005/6. This included 2,500 who had injections last year, up from 2,100.
The increase follows a push by the government to encourage the use of such devices in order to cut teenage pregnancies.
Although parents have apparently complained that their daughters were being fitted with the implants without their knowledge, I for one am absolutely certain that having such a device is better than an unwanted pregnancy. Although it is true that the long-term effects of such implants are unclear, the girls may well not use the devices for very long. They will eventually start a family at an appropriate age or switch to an alternative method when older.
Access to contraception is vitally important and reproductive freedom lies at the heart of public health and equity across the world.
Here in the EU the European Commission has always and supported policy and co-ordination and exchange of good practice to combat health inequalities between member states.
However, access to contraception is not always easy or cheap in several EU countries, due in part to lack of state subsidy and poor information on availability. This has detrimental effects on the health and well-being of low-income women in particular. It also does nothing to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in these countries.
Unfortunately the European Commission does not at present prioritise women’s reproductive health and access to contraception. The 88 health indicators developed by the Commission do not include availability of contraception or the unmet needs for such provision. What is more, the Commission’s Health for Growth Programme (2014 – 2020) contains no references to sexual and reproductive health.
To try and put this right, members of the European Parliament Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee are putting an oral question to the Commission – similar to Prime Minister’s Questions without the loudness and rudeness – on the issue.
The Question will ask:
- What is the Commission doing to collect data on contraceptive use?
- Is the Commission sharing best practice across Member States?
- How is the Commission breaking down the barriers – high cost, lack of insurance cover, lack of helpful information – limiting access to contraception?
- In what ways will the Commission follow up on the outcomes detailed in its report on health equality initiatives?
It is absolutely right that we push the European Commission on this important subject. Safe and reliable contraception has transformed women’s lives allowing pregnancies to be planned and the size of any given family size to be decided by the parents concerned. Those of us who live in countries where contraception is free and easily accessible have a real duty to do all we can to bring the same benefits to women who live in less fortunate circumstances.
Interestingly United States President Barack Obama recently announced modified plans to require that all women to have access to contraception. The president was uniquivocal when he said the policy “saves lives and saves money”. The White House even hanged the scheme to allow health insurers to provide cover directly if employers object in order to allow access to contraception where employers may not wish to support it on religious grounds.