Legal advice has been sought by the Minister for Health on plans to extend free contraception to 16-year-old girls, as 17 is the age of sexual consent.
The plan, included in the health budget for 2023, is hoped to offer females from 16 to 30 access to this support, increasing from the current limits of 17 to 25. Minister Stephen Donnelly clarified the lower age limit is dependent on the advice he receives.
“I am waiting on the legal advice to come in,” he said.
“My view is that the medical age of consent is 16, and if we are providing termination services free of charge to 16-year-olds, which we are, we must provide contraception free of charge to 16-year-olds.
"I find it very difficult to see how we could do it otherwise.”
A women’s health fund of €32.2m also includes €10m for IVF treatments (in-vitro fertilisation) with this funding to run from September to December 2023 initially. The programme will open by funding women to attend private clinics, as a pathway to offer public treatment is worked on.
These clinics will bridge the gap until the State's first public IVF service is available, he said. Decisions on eligibility criteria, and how many rounds of IVF might be covered have not yet been made. The discussions are expected to involve patient advocacy groups as well as fertility specialists.
“This is €10m for four months. Were that to be maintained into 2024 it would represent annual funding of €30m,” he said.
A drug for severe morning sickness during pregnancy, Cariban, is also funded, with a €1.7m budget. This prescription drug could be available from a woman’s obstetrician, but the pathway is still being worked out with GPs also under consideration as a prescribing option.
The drug can cost women up to €3,000 over the course of a pregnancy, and has not been available on medical cards or the drug payment scheme.
Mr Donnelly said: “Will one million be enough? What I can tell you is what the amount required to meet the clinical criteria, we will make that amount of money available.”