France to offer free contraception for women up to age 25

Boxes of the contraceptive Postinor-2, known as "morning-after pill", in a file photo. REUTERS
France will begin offering free contraceptives for women up to age 25 starting next year to help young women with the financial costs of protecting against pregnancy, the country’s top health official said Thursday.

“It is unbearable that young women cannot protect themselves, cannot have contraception if they choose to do so because it is too expensive for them,” said Olivier Véran, the country’s health minister, on France 2, a public broadcaster. The government had noticed a decline in the use of contraceptives among “a certain number of young women,” he said.

The government said it would set aside about 21 million euros (almost $25 million) to pay for all types of contraceptives — including IUDs — and consultations on their use. The age of 25 was chosen as a threshold, Véran said, “because it is an age that corresponds, in terms of economic life, social life and income, with more autonomy.”

The announcement was in stark opposition to much of the debate over women’s reproductive rights in some other countries. In the United States, a near-total ban on abortion in Texas came into effect last week making it the most restrictive state in the US Poland’s government implemented a ban on almost all abortions in January, spurring widespread protests.

In Mexico, however, the Supreme Court decriminalised abortion Tuesday, though states would still have to apply the ruling.

Family planning clinics and women in France welcomed the new measure, with some saying they hoped for even more coverage. “We want free contraception for everyone,” said Marianne Niosi, director of the National Confederation of Family Planning. She and other groups also called for an inclusive education campaign around sex and contraception.

“Will people be aware that they are entitled to it?” Niosi said of new benefit. Some women in France said Thursday afternoon that they did not even know about the measure, which was announced on a morning breakfast show.

Young adults faced complicated situations, said Niosi, “either because as students they have no money, or because they are entitled to their parents’ medical insurance and a form of control can be exercised over their choices.”

Others asked bigger questions, like why women still primarily bore the burden of contraception, and questioned the age cutoff. “In the end, the responsibility for contraception will fall even more on women who can be told that they have no reason not to take the pill,” said Céline Caron, 20, a student who added that the measure reduced economic inequalities but not gender inequalities.

In France, the government funds public health care, but patients must pay upfront for prescriptions and appointments. Families can also opt to buy additional private coverage for themselves and their dependents.

But many household health plans stop coverage for dependents in their 20s, and Véran said that some women gave up contraception during these years because of the expense.

Women in France were already able to claim partial or full reimbursement for contraceptives under private insurance plans and be reimbursed for the cost of abortions.

According to 2019 government figures, women who experiencing the lowest standards of living in France were significantly more likely to terminate a pregnancy than those who had a median standard of living.

Under the new measure all contraceptive costs for women under 25 would be reimbursed, the health ministry said.

Still, paying upfront would not be “viable” for students, Niosi said.

Though still popular, oral contraception use has fallen in recent years following media coverage in 2012 about a young woman who suffered a stroke that she blamed on a version of the pill. The risk of blood clots as a side effect from the newer pill was comparatively low: about 9 to 12 in 10,000 compared with 5 to 7 in 10,000 for an earlier version. Still, health insurers stopped reimbursing people for the higher-risk pill and analysts said in the years after some women turned to other birth control methods.

Younger women under 30 in particular are more often choosing condoms or long-acting reproductive contraceptives, such as IUDs, over oral contraceptives, according to a 2016 survey of 4,315 women from Public Health France.


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