Row over 'insulting' New Zealand contraception plans

New Zealand Family Planning poster
Image caption The government is actively encouraging birth control measures

Anti-poverty groups in New Zealand have strongly criticised government plans to offer free long-term contraception to women receiving welfare payments.

They have accused the government of trying to take control of reproduction.

The plans are motivated by beneficiaries being "seen as people who are worth less than others", they say.

But the government says the measures are designed to get people on welfare into training or work rather than staying at home having more children.

Figures released by the New Zealand government show that the country has one of the highest teenage birth rates among developed countries - at about 30 births per 1,000 women - but lower than Britain and the US.

'Slippery rope to eugenics'

The government say it wants to introduce the measure as part of its NZ $287.50m (US $227.21m) budget for controversial welfare reforms.

"We certainly have concerns about children being born to those on welfare and we see the access to contraception as being a barrier, particularly the cost around it," Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said.

She said that about 29% of people on benefits are having children and that the contraception subsidy would give women better choices.

"I think it's completely reasonable. It's not compulsory, it's just something to add to them trying to plan their families so that they've got choices."

The government says that free contraception will be offered to teenagers on benefits as well as all women on benefits, and their daughters aged 16 to 19.

Its proposals have been supported by some family planning groups.

But critics say the move is tantamount to social engineering because they say it gives the government a role in dictating women's reproductive rights.

They argue that mass contraception measures would not only fail to reduce poverty but would also increase unwanted pregnancies because they encourage a more casual approach to sex.

"I see it very much as the first step on a slippery rope to eugenics, where the state interferes with a woman's reproductive rights and our ability to control our reproduction," MP Sue Bradford told Television New Zealand.

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