The 2012 US election became rather embroiled with the matter of female contraception, not so long ago. A matter already signed, sealed and delivered appeared fair game amongst candidates vying for a political edge. For some reason female contraception has been raised in the UK again.
Here it is a rather different issue that is open to debate. It is whether or not female contraceptive pills should be readily available over the chemist or pharmacy counter and the minimum age for purchasing these pills. Added to the debate is whether or not a girl's parents should be informed or the purchase be between the girl, her conscience and the pharmacist.
Take a look at the NHS website which carries contraceptive details and you will see that, "Around two and a half million people use NHS specialist community contraception services (family planning clinics) each year"
The proposals would see girls as young as 13 being able to purchase contraceptive pills, with no parental agreement, and over the counter. So firstly are the proposals simply another UK government cost cutting exercise? Well they could be. The NHS is under attack by the government, that is for sure. Funding has been cut and is set to be cut further. Minimising, or perhaps even by passing altogether, NHS specialist community contraception services (family planning clinics) will save money. It has to. Less staff, buildings and the like will be necessary.Another financial saving will be in reducing teenage and unwanted pregnancies.
The UK has a dismal track record as far as teenage pregnancies go. A reduction in unwanted pregnancies should reduce the amount of abortions and young mothers who so often end up in a lone parent family unit.All in all you would think a win, win situation, or is it?
The age of consent for sexual activity in the UK is still 16. It is higher for gay sex. Allowing over the counter sales of contraceptives to 13-year-old girls must surely be like endorsing under-age sex? At 13 a girl is directly responsible to her parents. How will parents respond to having such an important decision, that is contraception, removed from them?
Then there are the many possible health issues associated with "the pill". Will UK pharmacists have the time, money and inclination to do proper health checks on customers?
The changes have been trialled in some areas of the UK, for the last couple of years. The government see them as one way to reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies in the UK. It is viewed that the changes will reduce the need for abortions and the morning after contraceptive which carries some risk.
Critics of the proposed changes, including Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship , claim that the evidence of positive effects is false. It is also claimed that the changes could lead to a huge increase in sexually transmitted diseases.
The NHS study of course ii in favour of the changes. It will in some ways reduce a heavy burden of cost. However it is far from that simple. Using examples of problem families to justify the changes is not productive. There are still many caring families in the UK who want to be involved in such decision making by their teenage children.
Eileen Kersey manages TEK Staff Blog