The New Zealand government hopes to reduce beneficiaries by offering those on benefits and their children free long acting contraception such as long term contraceptive injections, implants and intra-uterine devices.  Many consider this is tantamount to the government getting involved in women’s reproductive rights and worry that women will be bullied into short term sterilisation.  It certainly sends a strong message that New Zealand doesn’t want people on benefits having children. 

The policy suggests that contraception is an answer to what is in reality a much wider social problem.  It also ignores studies which suggest that mass contraceptive measures affirm a casual approach to sex and increase unwanted pregnancies as a result (for example, see a study into contraception in Spain reported last year which showed that when you reduce the perceived risks of a behavior, people often merely compensate by behaving in higher-risk ways). 

Beneficiary, Sandra Waru, in a New Zealand Herald article described the new policy as “belittling” to women.  More worryingly, Green party co-leader, Metiria Turei, believes that in practice WINZ staff will pressure women into taking the available contraceptive in part through financial coercion.  Other planned reforms intended to dissuade beneficiaries from having children include a new requirement for those who have another child while on a benefit to look for work when that baby is 1, rather than wait until he or she is 5.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sue Bradford commented in an article from Stuff that it is “totally unacceptable” for the Government to get involved in women’s reproduction, saying that the policy is motivated by beneficiaries being “seen as people who are worth less than others,”.  Interestingly, the Family Planning Association and birth control movement has its roots in targeting poor, African American women so these ideas are hardly new.  The Review printed an excerpt of an address that founder Margaret Sanger gave in 1926. In it she said:

It now remains for the U.S. government to set a sensible example to the world by offering a bonus or yearly pension to all obviously unfit parents who allow themselves to be sterilized by harmless and scientific means. In this way the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their unhappy condition. The number of the feeble-minded would decrease and a heavy burden would be lifted from the shoulders of the fit. (See Margaret Sanger, “The Function of Sterilization,” The Birth Control Review, October 1926, 299.).

Is pushing long-term contraception an appropriate or ethical role for the State to be taking on?  As someone who thinks that contraception is a band aid on wider social issues and does merely send a message to our young people (and beneficiaries now) that we practically expect them to be having sex and engaging in risky sexual behaviour through the way we approach it in schools etc., I don’t like it.  And I certainly hope this isn’t a slippery slope to requiring certain sections of society to use contraception.

The great sadness is that a beneficiary interviewed on New Zealand TV station TV 3 said that she would encourage her daughter to take the long term contraceptive solutions offered not at 16 as suggested by the interviewer, but at 14, because that’s when she expected she could well be having sex. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that people should be having children they can’t afford to feed, but it seems society’s attitude to casual sex is the root issue here and our low expectations of people’s sexual behaviour and protectionist policies in fact fuel the problem. 

After practising law for the last four years, most recently as a junior barrister, Shannon Buckley has decided to complete the graduate diploma in secondary education this year to become...