The most prevalent barriers to accessing contraception in Ireland are cost, local access and embarrassment, a new report has found.
The Report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception, ordered by the Department of Health, also stated that contraception use in Ireland is high and stable, and the difficulties arising in access are “only a challenge at the margins in overall population terms”.
Almost one in four of those who reported difficulty accessing contraception cited embarrassment as a factor.
Research also highlighted that young women reported being afraid to reveal they are sexually active, embarrassed to be seen at a family planning clinic, or worried about confidentiality breaches.
“Embarrassment has also been reported in relation to talking to GPs, pharmacists and clinic staff about contraception and with regard to purchasing condoms, as well as asking partners to wear them and using them,” the report adds.
Younger adults are more likely to cite embarrassment as a reason for having difficulty in obtaining contraception, and stigma is more of a factor among younger adults, with younger people, especially younger men, more likely than their older counterparts to hold a negative opinion about women carrying condoms as a precautionary measure.
The research also highlighted that parents can feel uncomfortable and lack confidence when talking about relationships, sexuality and contraception with their children.
“This is problematic as families are the primary social context in which children’s sexual socialisation begins and if communication around safe sex is limited or awkward, this can further feelings of embarrassment and discomfort around contraceptive access,” the report states.
The report found that there were no statistically significant differences between respondents living in urban or rural areas, but access depended on lack of any service whatsoever in a given area, to extended waiting times.
There are a number of recommendations made in the report to alleviate the impact of these barriers, such as state funding, changes to the prescription status of oral contraceptives, workforce training and education initiatives.
“It is therefore important to continue to make progress towards the vision outlined by Slaintecare of a more integrated health system, providing care on the basis of need, and not ability to pay and where there is a meaningful and significant expansion of community-based care,” the report added.
However the Group cautions against the view that simply making contraception free will reduce the number of crisis pregnancies or promoting the uptake of more effective contraceptive methods.
“There is a very real risk that, as a standalone measure, removing the cost barrier will simply displace private expenditure (including that of wealthier individuals) and thus will represent an ineffective use of scarce resources.”
Health Minister Simon Harris 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 submissions.
“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,” he said.
“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.”