Free contraceptive pill halves Norway's abortion rate

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Norwegian Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. File photo: Cornelius Poppe/Scanpix
15:33 CEST+02:00
A pilot project with free contraceptive pills for Norwegian women younger than 25 has seen abortion rates halved, yet the Health Minister does not want to roll out the system nationwide.

Between 2008 and 2009, Norwegian health authorities gave out the contraceptive pill for free to women in Tromso and Hamar, while performing surveys with the test persons and young women in the two areas where the pill was not given out. The survey revealed that the number of abortions was half that in the free-pill areas compared to Bodø and Porsgrunn, where women who were not given free contraception but also answered questions about their sexual health.

Despite the study result, the health minister has chosen not to roll out the free-pill drive nationally. Jonas Gahr Støre has said such a roll-out would be too costly. The Health Ministry did not offer an estimate on the cost of abortions performed in Norway, when contacted by The Local, but said that money spent on contraception could be used more effectively on other health measures. 

"To introduce free birth control for women up to 25 years could result in a reduction in the number of abortions," Health Ministry top aide Kjell Erik Øie told The Local via email. "But it will also involve using about 100 million kroner ($17 million) on an initiative aimed at healthy young women - money that can be used alternatively on other measures with positive health effects."

The ministry added that the pilot project was part of an action plan to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and that 180 million would be spent next year to help public health and school clinics continue that work. 

"This year we have spent over 30 million on information and knowledge rather than on free birth control. It also seems that it works," Øie said.

The issue has divided opinion among Norway's public health specialists. On Friday, the head of the child and family unit in Asker municipality, Nina Nordgaard, told NRK she did not understand the minister's stance. 

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"This is a weird policy," said Nordgard, who is also a nurse and underlined that unwanted pregnancies and abortions took an emotional as well as physical toll on many young patients. "Many girls have a reaction to it later in life. That must also be taken into account." 

The Verdens Gang newspaper reported on Friday that the country's Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet) had recommended that the Health Ministry consider free contraception for women in their twenties, as the study showed it to be the most effective way to keep abortion rates low.
The directorate report also stated that the women themselves said that the pill being offered for free was an important factor in their decision to actively use contraception.

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