Tuesday 20 March 2018

Contraception confusion for under 16s is putting them at risk of pregnancy

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

Ambiguous laws about contraception are putting young people at risk of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, it was claimed.

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) revealed the legal status of prescribing contraception to young people under the age of 16 in Ireland remains very unclear.

It believes teenagers would rather run the risk of an unplanned pregnancy or infection than face the possibility of their parents finding out about their sexual activities.

The situation is further complicated for medics by the fact that the age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17, IFPA said.

Dr Caitriona Henchion, IFPA medical director, said: "Barriers to sexual health services are dangerous to the health and welfare of young people because they increase their risk of unplanned pregnancies and STIs.

"Giving young people the ability to consent to their own medical care would be a major step towards keeping young people safe and healthy."

A survey of 251 consultations with young people at the IFPA's city centre clinic over the last five years found:

:: Almost half (48pc) at its Cathal Brugha Street Clinic sought ongoing contraception services, with 32pc needing emergency contraception and 9pc for pregnancy services.

:: 65pc attended on their own - but in the under 16 age group 54pc were unaccompanied.

:: The IFPA found sexually active young people engaging in consensual sex with similar aged partners were unlikely to stop in the absence of accessible sexual health service.

Dr Henchion said a lack of clarity is a serious deterrent to young people in need of sexual health services, and also poses a major dilemma for doctors who are ethically required to provide a confidential service which is in the best interest of their client.

"Young people should not have to face uncertainty about services and should be entitled to avail of confidential services without fear of betrayal and without threat of refusal of care," she added.

"In addition, medical professionals deserve the protection of the law when they supply services which, after careful assessment, they decide are in young people's best interests."

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