Is the contraceptive pill keeping up to date with women's changing needs? This was the question posed by panellists at the BMW Edge, Federation Square last week (November 23).
A number of academics and feminists took part in the public debate, which was put on by the University of Melbourne and the Victorian Women's Trust, titled 50th Anniversary of the Pill in Australia: an Incomplete Revolution.
The event's panellists included Dr Louise Keogh, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Women's Health, Gender and Society at the University of Melbourne, Mark Crooks, executive director of the Victorian Women's Trust, Dr Leslie Cannold, ethicist and columnist, and comedian Nelly Thomas.
And while the pill has its detractors the majority of participants were positive in their assessment of as a contraceptive method, but also said that more needed to be done when it came to preventing pregnancies.
Dr Keough said that the pill was first invented to help married women space pregnancies, but is now being used for extended periods of time.
"The pill is not really doing the job women need it to do today," she asserted.
"Yet it is women who personally take the blame when things go wrong – when they have an unplanned pregnancy or face difficulty falling pregnant late in life."
Addressing women in the crowd she said: "It is time to start demanding further progress in this area and time for women to stop taking the blame."
And in a country where failure rates for contraception are a major concern – the pill has a nine per cent failure rate and condoms are 14 per cent – while 16 per cent of women have difficultly using the pill due to health reasons.
But an increase in failure rates may also have something to do with the length of time women are using the pill.
Women are now taking the pill for thirteen years before having children and it seems that this figure is on track to keep rising as more and more women delay child birth.
Dr Keogh suggested that failure rates could be exacerbated with time, which may be one of the reasons why in Australia one-in-three women have an abortion in their lifetime and one-in-five have trouble falling pregnant at a time of their choosing.
"On average, every woman can expect two contraceptive failures in her lifetime and unless women are in stable relationships or marriages – and sometimes not even then – women manage the fallout from contraceptive failure by themselves," she said.
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