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Donnelly says free contraception for 17-25 year olds 'is just the start'

The health minister said the roll out of such a measure would’ve been ‘unthinkable to do in the past’.

Image: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said “he fully intends” to roll out the provision of free contraception to women beyond the 17-25 cohort announced in this week’s Budget.

Speaking to reporters today, the minister said the measure, which costs €28 million for next year alone, won’t kick in until next August as a “considerable amount of work” has to be done to get the implementation process correct.

It was announced this week that the contraceptive pill will be free of charge for women in that 17-25 age cohort, but individuals will have to continue to pay the €1.50 prescription charge.

The cost of fitting and removing long-term contraception such as implants will also be free. Two GP consultations per year regarding contraception will also be free of charge for women in that age group.

While it has been broadly welcomed by a number of groups, questions have also been asked about why the government did not roll out free contraception for all.

The minister explained today that the roll out to 17 to 25 year olds “is just the start”.

“I intend rolling this out much more broadly, but we have to start somewhere,” he said, stating that a number of reports and studies show that the existing cost barriers to contraception disproportionately affects younger women.

“So we’re starting where the reports say the need is greatest… but I fully intend in rolling this out wider,” he confirmed.

The minister also said he is “certainly very open” to rolling out free contraception to women “above and below” the 17-25 age group.

“Absolutely we can, that’s something that we’ll be looking at very carefully,” he said.

The government has never done anything like rolling out free contraception on this scale before, noted Donnelly, who added:

I’m reliably informed by people who’ve been in politics a lot longer than me that it would have been unthinkable to do in the past, so it’s a really, really positive measure.

“It’s essential. It has to be done… do we need to look at crisis pregnancies. Absolutely, to provide more supports for younger women, 100% .We do need to phase it beyond those who are 25 years old … This is a first step, it’s a big first step. I think it’s an important first step,” said Donnelly.

During the same press conference today, Minister of State for Mental Health commended Donnelly on the announcement, adding that she believes rolling it out to 17 year olds, rather than younger teenagers, is the right decision.

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“I just wanted to point out that the age of consent is actually 17 and I was very pleased to have the free contraception from the age of 17 to 25 because obviously we could be faced with legal challenges… that is the rule here in the country. So I think the minister was quite right with the age he started off at,” said Butler.

When asked if there was specific advice on the age of consent and contraception given to government by the Attorney General, Donnelly said he had not seen or been aware of any such advice from the AG.

Butler said she was also “not aware of advice of the Attorney General”, but said she believes the government “could end up” with legal challenges “if we were to ensure that it was free at the point of access” for people younger than the age of 17.

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