Tuesday, March 8, 2022
As Family Planning marks International Women’s Day, we reflect on some recent progress in sexual and reproductive health care in New Zealand that has been important for the sexual and reproductive health of women, particularly during the pandemic.
In March 2020, we had abortion law reform. Removing abortion from the Crimes Act enabled expanded access to abortion, including through telehealth. The law change came just in time - right before we went into our first level 4 lockdown. Women who wanted to end an unwanted pregnancy were - for the first time - able to access early medical abortion prescriptions without needing to go to a clinic in person. This made timely access to this essential health service possible during lockdown, when visiting a health practitioner would have been difficult or impossible for many women. Unfortunately telehealth abortion was only available in some regions during lockdown, but with the recent announcement of a national telehealth abortion service, it will soon be available more widely.
In November 2019, PHARMAC began funding another type of contraception - hormonal IUDs. Hormonal IUDs, known as Mirena and Jaydess are considered one of the best methods of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) available. Health practitioners and women advocated for Mirena and Jaydess to be funded in New Zealand for many years. Without PHARMAC funding, they cost hundreds of dollars and were unaffordable to many. This funding change expanded contraceptive options, and in particular, gave people access to three, rather than two types of long-acting reversible contraceptives. Evidence shows that LARCs help prevent unintended pregnancy and also reduce the need to visit a health practitioner regularly for pill prescriptions or contraceptive injections (Depo or the jab). Having a good range of accessible contraceptive options is essential during a pandemic, when it may be especially important for people to prevent or delay pregnancy.
In 2021, Family Planning received its first significant funding increase in a government budget in 12 years. This has enabled us to expand virtual services, freeing up more time for the visits that need to be in person. At Family Planning, 42% of our consultations are now being done virtually. We have been able to adapt and find a new way of working in the pandemic. We are currently starting a co-design process to both improve and expand our virtual services in a way which will promote equitable access to our services. We know our services play a critical role in primary care. Our clients tell us that they come to us because they are treated with respect and because we are experts in sexual and reproductive health care. Among our clients aged 16-19, 18% reported that other than Family Planning, they didn’t see any other health provider in the past year.
While it is important to celebrate this positive change, we know that in many ways, New Zealand is just catching up to other countries in the area of sexual and reproductive health care. Abortion was removed from the Crimes Act in many other countries decades ago, other countries still have a broader range of contraceptive options than we do - including types like the contraceptive patch and the ring, and we still do not have a current national strategy that includes reproductive health and contraception to guide policy initiatives.
Family Planning is grateful for the progress over the past few years. Now, as health system reform progresses, we hope that women’s health and wellbeing is visible. We want to build on the momentum of the past few years and continue to improve equitable access to sexual and reproductive health services so we can regain our role as a global leader in this area.
Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.