Opinion piece co-authored by Dr Celia Devenish, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Te Kāhui Oranga ō Nuku (NZ Committee) Chair, Jackie Edmond, Chief Executive, Family Planning and Dr Samantha Murton President, Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners
Today is World Contraception Day
While contraceptive options and access have expanded for women globally during the past few decades, not all New Zealand women are reaping the benefits of what medicine has to offer. Women in New Zealand face multiple barriers to accessing the most effective methods of contraception. Access to contraception is linked to abortion – a topic under the spotlight since the introduction of the Abortion Legislation Bill.
The Growing Up New Zealand study found that about 40% of pregnancies are unplanned, and a more recent analysis suggests the figure is closer to 50%. While declining, New Zealand has high rates of teenage pregnancy compared to other OECD countries. Barriers to effective contraception are amplified for Māori and Pasifika women, young women and women on a low income, who already experience barriers to primary care services.
There are two specific actions which could make a difference – universal funding and access for all contraceptive options, and a long term national strategy for reproductive and sexual health.
Today, the most reliable methods of contraception are called long-acting reversible contraceptives or LARCs. They are more cost-effective than the oral contraceptive pill and people using LARCs are 20 times less likely to have an unintended pregnancy. There are three different types of LARCs available – the implant, copper intra uterine device (IUD) and hormonal IUD.
LARCs are inserted by a health practitioner, then remain in place for three to ten years, relieving women of further steps like taking a pill every day or getting a shot every three months. They have higher continuation rates than shorter acting methods meaning that women are satisfied with them. Despite their effectiveness, LARCs are not a common method of contraception used in New Zealand.