The Cost of Being a Woman

As a young woman in a (generally) progressive, optimistic society, it really bothers me how expensive it is not to become pregnant.

Twice a year I visit my GP to renew my prescription, which costs €60 each time. I have to buy my contraceptive pill every month, which can range from €11 to €14, depending on the pharmacy and brand. In short, for me not to fall pregnant it costs me the guts of 300 quid a year. Considering I began taking my pill when I was eighteen, and estimating I will be able to conceive for the guts of thirty more years, that brings the total financial burden to approximately €9,000; €2,000 more than my Masters of Architecture.

And whatever about getting knocked-up, chemical contraceptives do nothing to prevent STIs. Condoms add a further cost to a safe bedroom. I count myself lucky that I can budget every month to pay for it, but I am sure that this is not the same for others. It is desperately unfair.

What perhaps I find most troubling is that, according to the Department of Health, should I fall pregnant, it would cost me nothing to terminate it. In the run up to the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the ‘vote no’ side used the argument that ‘free abortions’ would encourage promiscuity and unsafe sex throughout their campaign. Whatever side of the highly emotive argument you fall on, I find it hard to believe that anyone would argue that an every-day, unobtrusive contraceptive should be financially less accessible than an abortion.

I have no qualms about having to visit my GP to be prescribed my contraceptive in the first place. I have a good relationship with my GP and count myself lucky that she is extremely knowledgeable and creative having, in college, specialised in contraceptive health. It was comforting to be guided through a process which ultimately would change my body’s natural chemistry. After my first prescription I revisited my GP after three months, just to make sure there were no unforeseen side effects. My next prescription lasted for six months, and once again I was comforted by the fact I was being monitored. However, four years on, I take issue with having to renew it every six months.

I am fine. I have taken my contraceptive at 7.45am everyday for the past four years. I have no side effects and, on the contrary, have found it has eased some of my PMS. I do not need a check-up every six months. I could probably begrudgingly attend once a year - although at this stage, even that seems a little excessive. And the appointment itself; checking my blood pressure and asking how I am feeling does not quantify a €60 session to me. I have taken to renewing my prescription when I am visiting my doctor for other reasons, so it does not feel like a waste of my money and time. Even if the appointment was half-price I would take issue with it, since it is not by my choice that I attend.

As it stands, free contraceptives are available in Ireland to holders of medical cards. And after the Eighth Amendment was repealed, Minister for Health Simon Harris claimed; “if our underlying principle is that abortion should be safe, legal and rare, then we must do all we can to reduce the number of crisis pregnanies and support women in every way”. He said that he hoped that the number of women to which free contraceptives are open to would have changed by the end of the year. I directly beseech the Department of Health; help me and my friends, because it takes two to become pregnant, to protect ourselves and our futures.

The thing is, I love my pill. It is my personal protection - safeguarding my immediate future. It works well with my body. But it is incredibly frustrating to consider it a luxury. Even using the word ‘luxury’ triggers the infuriating notion of all women’s menstrual products being seen as discretionary.

I understand that this issue is highly emotive and personal. This column was not written to push my beliefs and opinions on anyone. Rather it was written as a result of my frustration, that the difference between two girls becoming pregnant could come down to money.

As a side note I would highly encourage everyone to avail of the free condoms provided by the Students’ Union, although it seems awkward the staff are always friendly and discreet. Again, they’re free.