Access to free contraception, without prescription and directly from pharmacies, would “promote bodily autonomy” according to the UCC Students’ Union Welfare Officer.
Caoimhe Walsh’s comments come after the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) reiterated its call for women to be allowed access to contraception directly from pharmacies, without prescription and free of charge.
Two specific progesterone-based oral contraceptives are now available over the counter in UK pharmacies without prescription.
“Women in Ireland should also be allowed similarly convenient access to oral contraceptives through their pharmacist,” said Kathy Maher, a community pharmacist and past-President of the IPU.
The 2020 Programme for Government commits to the establishment of free contraceptive care, starting with women and girls aged between 17 and 25 and a working group was established in 2019 to consider the policy, regulatory and legislative issues relating to enhanced access to contraception, following the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment.
“While stating that contraceptive usage is generally high and stable, the working group cited lack of local access, cost, inconvenience, lack of knowledge, and embarrassment among younger women, as the main obstacles to accessing contraception in Ireland, among other factors,” Ms Maher said. "We look forward to the work of the Contraception Implementation Group being progressed as rapidly as possible.
Caoimhe Walsh, Welfare Officer at UCC SU said despite only being in the job since June, already she has had some girls coming to her to discuss accessing contraception.
“I think it [accessing contraception easily] is something that is so important and it can have a lot of benefits for women, especially younger women. There can be a sort of embarrassment around going to your GP to be prescribed contraceptives, which can be very off-putting for some women,” Ms Walsh said.
“It gives us the choice whether we want to have children and doesn’t subject us to the harsh opinion of others and other organisations if you were to end up pregnant because you didn’t feel comfortable asking a GP for a prescription, or we just couldn’t afford it."
Solidarity Councillor Fiona Ryan said women’s health issues in Ireland seem to “always be able to go on the backburner” and she “fully supports the IPU’s calls”.
“It’s something that’s already de-facto established through online medicine and telepharmacy,” she said.
Highlighting the onus on women to get a prescription for the contraceptive pill every six months, Ms Ryan said that this doesn’t happen in many other countries.
“Broadly speaking we have an onerous system that places barriers in front of people, and particularly when we're talking about young people, where embarrassment might be large enough to stop someone getting whatever contraception they so choose.
“I think this is a very prudent call, and I think it’s a call everyone should support.”