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It’s our birthday!

80 years: 1936-2016

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

National News

We’ve been delivering positive sexual and reproductive health for 80 years.

New Zealand has come a long way since 1936.

Back then, Michael Joseph Savage was Prime Minister of a far smaller nation, with the population tipping just past 1.5 million. New Zealand was emerging as a sporting nation; Jack Lovelock won Gold at the Berlin Summer Olympics and Jean Batten victoriously made the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand.

However for New Zealand women, daily life was difficult – women were not entitled to unemployment benefits and received almost no support from the government. Women were unable to serve on juries, weren’t entitled to the same pay and work opportunities as men, and unbelievably, marital rape was legal.

Access to sexual and reproductive health care and information has come a long way since 1936 too – and we’ve been at the forefront of the change.

In 1936, contraception was basic and unreliable, with couples relying on thick rubber condoms, cervical caps, rubber diaphragms, pessaries and the rhythm method to prevent pregnancy. Contraception was considered immoral, especially for unmarried women, and access to contraception was often at the discretion of individual doctors.

Abortion was illegal and the number of women dying from unsafe abortion reached such figures, that an inquiry would soon be commissioned. Sexuality education was also limited, and books outlining contraception (including some medical textbooks) had been banned from entering New Zealand until the 1930s.

It was in this setting that Elsie Locke established Family Planning – at the time though, we were called the Sex Hygiene and Birth Regulation Society.

1940s - A decade of firsts

In April 1940, we got into trouble with postal authorities for posting obscene literature - a flyer which used the word "contraception". In 1941, we set up a fund to help needy women pay for contraception.

Our first sexuality education brochure - Where Did I Come From - was produced in 1942.

1950s – We start taking cervical smears

In 1957 our Auckland clinics began routine cervical smears - a radical practice at the time. Today, our nurses take around 22,000 cervical smears each year. Just under 10 per cent of all visits to our clinics are from women wanting a cervical smear.

1960s – The arrival of the pill

The contraceptive pill became available in New Zealand in 1961 meaning that for first time, married women had a reliable method of contraception. Our conference in June 1964 ratified use of contraceptive pills in our clinics. By 1964 it was estimated that 40 per cent of married, fertile women in New Zealand were on the pill. Today, around 50 per cent of visits to our clinics are from women wanting contraception – the contraceptive pill is still the most popular contraceptive in New Zealand.

1970s – Emergency contraception

In 1971, Family Planning doctor Margaret Sparrow began prescribing emergency contraception, then known as the morning-after pill, in Family Planning Clinics and in student health centres.

By 1974 we had 27 clinics, up from 18 in 1973 and just nine in 1972. Today we have 30 clinics, 19 clinics within schools and we’re offering a range of services via phone consultations, so clients can talk with our clinicians from their home, their office – wherever suits them best.

1980s – Sexuality education

In 1983 we trialled our first sexuality education resource in schools. By March 1984, 90 schools had ordered the resource and by July the same year some 300 copies had been ordered.

In 1985 we adopted our sexuality philosophy supporting people’s right to live free of discrimination and express their sexuality without hurt or violence of others. Towards the end of the decade, we began to address Treaty of Waitangi issues and the fact that Māori had limited access to sexual and reproductive health services.

1990s – Landmark global conference

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo agreed that population is not just about counting people, but about making sure that every person counts. Family Planning was at this landmark event – our immediate past president Christine Taylor was there as an adviser to the New Zealand Government delegation.

2000s – Strategy supported

We supported the Ministry of Health’s 2001 Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy and in 2008 we pushed for it to be properly resourced and implemented. Our focus was on reducing rates of unplanned pregnancy, abortion, HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer and infertility.

Also by 2008, we’d dropped Association from our name and rebranded as Family Planning.

2010s – Low/no cost contraception

We worked for two years to ensure a contraceptive implant was available for free. In August 2010, PHARMAC announced the Jadelle contraceptive implant would be subsidised meaning most women pay very little or even nothing to get the implant. In the year prior to the subsidy just 275 women chose to have an implant. In the year after they became available free, 3465 women chose to have an implant.

Now, in 2016…

Despite all the changes over the past eight decades, we know there is much work to be done. For example, abortion is still governed by the Crimes Act, and New Zealand’s abortion laws have not been updated since 1978; gender and sexuality diverse individuals’ sexual and reproductive health needs are still not adequately met; and sexual violence against women remains a major concern. Some contraception options are still not available to all women because of their cost.

Our new vision and mission – ratified in December 2015 – confirm our commitment to the work that is still be done.

  • Vision: Whakamanahia – Equity, Access, Choice.
  • Mission: Aotearoa’s leading provider and courageous advocate for sexual and reproductive wellbeing and rights.

Family Planning is committed to achieving sexual and reproductive health and rights for all New Zealanders. Bring on the next 80 years!

Happy Birthday to us!

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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