This was the key message emerging from the launch event of the Europe-wide 2019 Contraception Atlas, organised by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF) and hosted by Spanish Greens/EFA group MEP Ernest Urtasun earlier this month.
Opening the event, Urtasun highlighted the need to strengthen public policies on family planning and improve access to contraception saying, “A figure that struck me in the Atlas was that 43 percent of pregnancies in the European region are unplanned. So, we really have a big public policy challenge here, in terms of proactively developing policies to allow couples to choose when and how many children they would like to have.”
Since 2017, the EPF’s Contraceptive Atlas has provided an annual, country-by-country ranking on access to contraceptive supplies, family planning, counselling and the provision of online contraceptive information.
The 2019 Atlas revealed that although 69 percent of European women use contraception, less than half of the 46 European countries included in the survey provided any form of contraception reimbursement scheme.
For the third year running, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom scored highest for their general contraception reimbursement schemes, their special arrangements for young and vulnerable groups and their government-supported websites.
The league table also highlighted a steep drop in ranking this year for Poland, which slid to the bottom of the European chart. EPF Secretary Neil Datta said that although the main findings of the Atlas remain unchanged, Poland had moved “dramatically in the wrong direction and was now in an “exceptionally poor” category by itself.
He said, “The main reason is because Poland has removed access to emergency contraception. Now Polish women have much less access to contraception. This is really affecting women’s access to measure to protect their own health.”
“In countries with a post-Soviet legacy, there are still many myths surrounding the use of contraception, therefore authoritative government information is very important” EPF Secretary Neil Datta
Datta explained that government supported websites providing information on contraception were crucial, particularly for younger people, who get much of their information online. “In countries with a post-Soviet legacy, there are still many myths surrounding the use of contraception, therefore authoritative government information is very important.”
Datta said that while the pill was the most widely used contraceptive in Europe, the most effective contraceptives were, in fact, Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCS), such as subdermal contraceptive implants, injections and IUDs, which are less prone to failure.
Belgian Senator and EPF President Petra De Sutter said that European women face “severe inequalities” when it comes to reproductive rights, with low-income women around five times more likely than their affluent counterparts to have an unintended birth.
“Studies show that women with higher incomes are much more successful in avoiding unintended pregnancies, thanks to easier access to contraception and information. This further deepens the divide in income, family stability and child outcomes. There is a pressing need for policies to help to close this inequality gap,” said De Sutter.
“Empowering women means removing all the obstacles preventing them from contributing to the development of society on an equal footing with men. Protecting women’s sexual and reproductive rights is therefore an important part of this process,” she added.
“Empowering women means removing all the obstacles preventing them from contributing to the development of society on an equal footing with men. Protecting women’s sexual and reproductive rights is therefore an important part of this process” Belgian Senator and EPF President Petra De Sutter
Finnish MP Hanna Sarkkinen explained how Finland had graduated from the yellow zone of the Atlas (55-60 percent) to the green zone (60-75 percent). “We were previously lagging Western Europe on access to contraception.”
“That was a shock for me, because in Finland we have very strong policies on gender equality, a good public health and welfare system and excellent maternity care. We have comprehensive sex education at school and we have a comprehensive reimbursement system for medicines. All contraceptives are, in principle, available.”
Sarkkinen said that Finland’s earlier low ranking was due to problems with access to contraception as well as a lack of any reimbursement programmes for contraceptives.
However, given that over 40 Finnish municipalities are now providing free contraception to young people, the country’s Contraception Atlas ranking had received a shot in the arm. “The Contraception Atlas made it visible that we were not as good as we thought we were.”
UK S&D MEP Julie Ward said that progressive forces in the European Parliament had done all they could during the current mandate to push for sexual and reproductive health and rights. “These issues are about public health rather than ideology.”
The attacks against sexual and reproductive health and rights are a global trend that we must fight together” UK S&D MEP Julie Ward
“The global anti-gender movement is progressing, sadly, and convincing more and more people that women’s health should be guided by religious or ideological principles. The attacks against sexual and reproductive health and rights are a global trend that we must fight together,” she added.
Her British Greens group colleague Jean Lambert also referred to the surprisingly high rate of unintended pregnancies in Europe, revealed by the Atlas. “If you are faced with an unintended pregnancy, it raises all sorts of questions for you and raises all sorts of challenges in your life. Finding out you’re pregnant when you didn’t want to be is one of the biggest shocks for anybody who finds themselves in that situation.”
Lambert said that investment in good sex and health education was key. “We really need to get a grip here. For people to actually understand their bodies, what’s happening, how to handle that, how to work in relationships with others is one of the most precious things that we can actually give people in terms of their whole life course.”
For more information, visit contraceptioninfo.eu