Contraceptives are great, but that’s *not* what we’ve just been sold

by Jake Quinn

Contraceptives are wonderful things. Oral contraceptives helped to liberate women when they were introduced to the public in the 1960s. They gave women significantly greater control over their bodies and their reproductive systems. They meant women had more choice about when and to whom they became pregnant.

Unwanted (I don’t mean unplanned) pregnancies are not wonderful things, children born into homes that don’t want them, or are not ready for them, don’t generally lead as full and healthy lives as those who were wanted and where the parents were ready and willing participants.

Contraceptives are particularly wonderful things in disadvantaged communities, where people are less able to cope with social and financial impacts of an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.

If every young woman who wanted effective long-term contraceptives could get their hands on them, in a medically sound environment, the world be a better place. So it is with sympathetic ears that most people received Social Development Minister Paula Bennett’s recent announcement of cheaper contraceptives for disadvantaged women (i.e. those on benefits).

Unfortunately, Ms Bennett knew what she was doing, and she knew what she was not doing. What she was not doing was providing cheaper contraceptives to disadvantage women. Because if that was what she was doing the pre-budget announcement would have been for more than the paltry sum of $1 million dollars over four years. (Oh, and it would have been announced by the Minster of Health).

$250,000 a year buys you a decent advertising campaign. But it doesn’t pay for a single surgical procedure to insert a long-term intrauterine or similar device. It really doesn’t go anywhere near paying for cheaper contraceptives, for anyone.

Let’s not forget that heavily subsidised contraceptives are already available from your doctor or sexual health clinic and are funded through the Health Vote. So, again, this “announcement” was not, sadly, about contraceptives.

This is thing that irritates me about this policy. It’s not about health and it’s not even about social welfare, it’s just – totally – about politics. Hell, I don’t mind that politics and policy mix, that’s to be expected.

For instance, a party tells you that you deserve more of your income and that the other party wants to take more of it from you (that’s the politics) so when in office they cut income taxes to try to stimulate spending in the real economy (that’s the policy). Politics is used to sell, or undermine, policy – we can expect that.

But when politics is used for no broader social purpose, or utility, it really is a waste of time. What is the point of a political process that doesn’t achieve anything other than (in this case cynical) point scoring? It should be the political journalist’s job to see this difference and call it out on behalf of the public.

So shame on all of those who ran headlines about the government’s ‘new plan’ to fund free contraceptives for women and their daughters who are on benefits. The government is suggesting no such thing, because they haven’t actually funded it. When they announce an extra $50 million dollars a year to go with it, then you can run the story.

What the government really funded was an advertising campaign to promote themselves, and we – collectively – just paid $1 million dollars for it. Not a bad investment from their point of view.