Free birth control proposal criticised

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A Mount Maunganui woman on the domestic purposes benefit says offering free contraception to beneficiaries is an insult.

Jody Hopkinson said treating women as though they were unable to manage their own fertility was low, considering some mothers depended on the Government in tragic circumstances.

Women on benefits - including teenagers and daughters of beneficiaries - would be offered free long-term contraception as part of Government welfare reforms.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced $1 million of funding for women to get long-term reversible contraception - such as an implant. Doctors visits would be covered as well as the cost of contraceptives, where the cost was not fully funded by Pharmac.

However, Miss Hopkinson said the policy was questionable.

"I wonder if Paula Bennett will offer reversible long-term contraception to the women made single mothers by the Christchurch earthquake?"

Miss Hopkinson has twin daughters aged 3. She said she was on the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), and worked two days a week. The girls' father lived in the United States.

She said she appreciated Work and Income supporting her short-term, but did not appreciate being "disrespected".

"Or having it inferred that the nanny state needs to manage my ovaries. When I was raising twins for the first two years I barely talked to a man [other than] my dad and my Winz guy ... I had no time to have sex."

Miss Hopkinson questioned whether women who received government funding under Working for Families would also be offered free contraception, and whether men would be targeted too.

"It takes two to tango - men who don't pay child support should [also] be offered reversible long-term contraception." Getting the contraceptive pill was not overly expensive (about $3 a month, plus a doctor's fee), she said.

"So this is really just to make National look tough. But may not change much."

Meanwhile, a Tauranga Budget advice manager said her immediate reaction was "hallelujah." Marjorie Iliffe said the decision to pay for contraceptives was a wise one. She dismissed Green MP Sue Bradford's concerns that it borders on state control of women's reproductive choices.

"To me, it's nothing to do with freedom of choice, it's pure economics," Mrs Iliffe said. "As long as I've been in this job I've been bewildered at the number of solo mothers, not in relationships, that are reproducing and it's the taxpayer that's had to support these children." Mrs Iliffe said free contraception reduced the "I can't afford it" excuse.

"Then any resulting pregnancies should not be supported by the taxpayer because we are already supporting their contraception, which they haven't used.

"It doesn't take away their reproductive choice but whether you can or can't afford it. It's a choice every married person has."

National director of Family First NZ, Bob McCoskrie, said the Government's attempt to prevent long-term welfare dependency of young people was a "laudable objective," and free contraception was just one logical option. "Up to half of current DPB recipients started on welfare as teenagers, and 20 per cent of women on the DPB have had additional children while on the benefit."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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