The National Government of New Zealand is offering free birth control to all beneficiaries says the New Zealand Herald. But the headline should more accurately read “free birth control for the poorest women in New Zealand on benefits”. Not all beneficiaries. Because in all the angst over those lazy welfare bludgers having lots of babies to stay on benefits for their whole lives, the targets of this particular policy have been poorly identified. And it’s not men.

Where is the companion policy of giving out sex education and free condoms to all men on unemployment benefits? It takes two human beings, a male and a female, to create a baby. Last time I looked.

On the surface this policy does look like common sense. It seems pretty obvious that people who find themselves on a benefit would be making very poor life choices to conceive and carry to term another child. However, there are aspects to this policy which feel disturbing and wrong. I’ll try to outline this.

The policy is directed only at women, not men. This highlights the target of the National Party’s vitriol, women. Keep those pesky women in line, preferably in the kitchen.

Women on benefits already have access to either free or dirt cheap, and easily available, contraception. I live in a small town in NZ (population less than 2,000) and my birth control costs me $15 every five years. That’s it. And it’s just down the road. For most Kiwis this is pretty typical. So women on benefits have access to very cheap medical care, reasonably accessible, and can discuss their birth control options with their doctor. So if this policy is not making the situation of access to affordable birth control much different, it must be about something else. That something else is I think control of women and pandering to the middle class “can’t-feed-don’t-breed” brigade.

By implementing this policy National allow WINZ staff (that’s welfare office staff) to have conversations with poor women (again, not the men!) about their birth control methods. And furthermore it allows WINZ staff, who have zero medical training or qualifications, to advocate one of two long term birth control methods (IUD or implants) to women.

You can bet that this policy introduced as “voluntary” will be anything but. The power imbalance between WINZ staff and beneficiaries is huge. When a WINZ staff member discusses birth control with a beneficiary there will be an element of coercion. I would not be at all surprised if the government introduces penalties to women on benefits who do not use an IUD or an implant. That’s the next step.

Finally, the only professional who should be having a conversation with poor women about their birth control is a medical professional. Not a welfare officer. Ever. Allowing the government to intrude into peoples reproductive choices in this manner is stepping very far over a line.

This policy is hailed by many middle class people as only common sense, and aren’t all those beneficiaries only lazy bludgers and they shouldn’t be having more children anyway. But there for the grace of god go I. Those who judge others harshly look harsh and nasty. It’s really a horrible trait in human beings, and I’m dismayed so many New Zealanders do it. If we allow the government to intrude in this way into womens’ lives we allow them to intrude into someone else’s life. We could be next. What other “common sense” policy will they come up with next? This is how facism starts, and we need to be aware of it and fight it even at the beginning.

Finally, the problem with assuming that we can reduce the number of children in beneficiary households by only giving their mothers long term contraception options is short sighted. This viewpoint makes some silly assumptions:
1. All contraception is 100% safe and effective, those children born to beneficiaries could not have possibly been conceived if their mothers used contraception.
2. At the time of conception each parent knows exactly what their financial situation will be when that child is born, their financial situation would never deteriorate over time.
3. Abortion for economic reasons is freely available, accessible and affordable for all women.

Clearly NONE of these three points is correct.

Although I agree that people receiving government benefits should not have more children while they are on those benefits, this policy is wrong and misguided. It feels nasty, short sighted, dishonest and unnecessarily intrusive. If we allow and condone it we allow this government to go where no government should go, into poor (and overwhelmingly brown) women’s wombs. And that’s just not okay.