Six decades since the pill changed everything, there's still work to do on contraception

Six decades since the pill changed everything, there’s still work to do on contraception

In the early 1960s, the oral contraceptive pill arrived in Australia.

And it changed everything.

But not immediately, not for all women.

Accessing the pill at first wasn’t easy.

It was initially only available to married women. And doctors could make choices over who to prescribe the pill too, such as to refuse single women.

It was also expensive. Carrying a 27.5% luxury tax initially, until 1972 when then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam abolished such taxes on contraceptives.

But overall, with the arrival of the pill came more control for women to plan families, to avoid unintended pregnancies and have more control over their sex lives. Having reproductive control also gave women control of their work and careers. It heralded the age of increased women’s participation, of women working after getting married and after having children.

That was six decades ago. How far has innovation around contraception come?

And is accessing contraception, particularly the many more methods that now exist, as easy as it should be?

We discuss all this and more on the latest episode of the Women’s Health Project. An editorially independent series made possible thanks to the support of Organon, the recently launched pharmaceutical company for women.

We look at policies in Australia that may be preventing access to contraception for some women, especially as more countries internationally are making various methods of contraception available to women for free, including France, which made the shift on 1 January this year.

We look at how it took women to bring contraception to the public agenda — including through private philanthropy back in the 1960s.

In 2022, with a wider range of contraception now available, are we getting as much education as we could be on the options? Is a lack of education hindering options?

A specialist in Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Deputy Medical Director of Marie Stopes Australia Dr Catriona Melville says on the podcast, there’s a lot more room for education around contraception.

“If you can’t control your fertility, you can’t control much else in your life,” she says.

It’s still quite astounding that in 2022, we don’t have free access to contraception. And we kind of try and deal with the aftermath of people not having adequate contraception instead of perhaps in trying to sort of putting in public health measures.”

So the people that have access to the contraception they want. But also in terms of marginalization, I think it’s never seemed to be a big priority for pharmaceutical organizations to develop or bring in sort of novel methods of contraception into Australia. And I suppose that the licensing process is quite bureaucratic and expensive.

That education is not only for those looking to be better aware of the choices of contraception available but also amongst providers.

Professor Danielle Mazza, who is the Director of the SPHERE Centre of Research Excellence in Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Primary Care at Monash Univeristy, speaks about some of the numerous barriers that still exist out there for accessing contraception, as well as information on the various methods available.

And Dr Deborah Bateson, the Medical Director at Family Planning NSW, notes there are opportunities for doctors to stay up to date on the latest developments in contraception, to help support health literacy among their patients. She notes some of the geographical barriers in access, especially when it comes to contraception involving a procedure

As we explore in the episode, there are so many opportunities available, particularly at the policy level, to provide more information and access to contraception for those who want it.

For one, we could look to examples overseas where contraception is offered for free.

In other areas, we could look at the options available here, and who can and can’t administer them.

We could look at ensuring that Nurses are fairly compensated for the insertion and removal of long-acting reversible devices __

And that GPs are able to discuss all contraceptive options with patients – improving contraceptive literacy – and so empowering women to choose the option that best suits them and their lifestyle

As we spoke to experts, we heard something we so often hear across the issues we cover on Women’s Agenda that ultimately impact women’s health and safety: we’ll get better outcomes for everyone, with more women involved at the decision-making table.

Just think back to the creation of the pill. It wouldn’t have happened without the advocacy – and even the private philanthropic funding – from women

We could look at ensuring that Nurses are fairly compensated for the insertion and removal of long-acting reversible devices

And that GPs are able to discuss all contraceptive options with patients – improving contraceptive literacy – and so empowering women to choose the option that best suits them and their lifestyle.

The Women’s Health Project is a podcast series produced by Women’s Agenda. It’s editorially independent, but made possible thanks to the support of Organon.

Listen below, or find it on iTunes or Spotify.


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