Yesterday's headline caught my attention: "Free contraception suggested for pre-teens". It was reported that "[s]enior academics at the University of Otago have called for a free contraceptive programme to be made available to teens before they become sexually active". Part of the rationale for this is that teen pregnancies place significant costs on individuals and societies.
It's an interesting idea and one that could get some people thinking about what other pregnancies might place significant costs on individuals and societies. This very question was addressed three years ago when it was revealed that: "[w]omen on benefits - including teenagers and the daughters of beneficiaries - will be offered free long-term contraception."
This announcement was not well received: critics said "the measure borders on state control of women's reproductive choices". The Greens co-leader Metiria Turei reportedly said that "providing free contraception is not the role of the state".
The front page of yesterday's NZ Herald was about the rise of childless couples. There has been a "rising rate of 'involuntary' childlessness where people planned to have children but, owing to educational and career priorities, did not get around to trying until too late".
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It's interesting that on the same day there was a lead story about one type of people not having children, the focus of another story was about how to prevent a different sector of society from having children. Perhaps we need to accept that people fortunate enough to have choices in life and those in possession of higher levels of education just aren't going to have as many children as those for whom life is more arduous.
I tried to imagine the subtext as to why academics are advocating a contraceptive "opt-out programme" for teenagers. Perhaps the thinking is that if really young teens are having sex then there is likely to be a level of disturbance operating in the background. If abuse, disadvantaged circumstances or mental health issues are a factor then these young people are probably not well placed to source their own contraceptives.
Blanket availability of contraceptives then does seem like the obvious answer. If the people who need it are, by definition, the people least likely to proactively acquire it, then they are also unlikely to have the resolution or foresight to opt out of it either. Maybe it's a really clever idea that targets those who need it while barely inconveniencing those who choose to opt out.
(And opting out is looking increasingly appealing when you consider the researchers seem keen on a long-acting reversible contraceptive. The sub-dermal implant Jadelle was specifically mentioned. Setting aside the negative publicity it attracted two years ago (hint: this product is easier to install than it is to remove), you have to wonder whether young bodies that are still maturing really need synthetic hormones added to the mix. Additionally, a reported fourteen per cent of women stop using it due to menstrual irregularities.)
But supposing you approve of the state tinkering with people's fertility, the only question is: why would we stop at teens and beneficiaries? Surely we could also offer free contraception to stupid people as well. What about sex offenders and failed finance company directors? The sky's the limit, really, once you start pondering the sectors of society you would prefer did not breed.