The National Women’s Council of Ireland has said contraception should be provided free of charge in the next Budget.

The group says free access to contraception will enable women to use evidence-based methods that are most suitable to them.

In their pre-budget submission, the NWCI also called on the government to ensure funding for the National Maternity Strategy.

Dr Cliona Loughnane, Women’s Health Coordinator said, “We’re calling on Budget 2020 to provide free contraception for all women who need it.

“Free contraception would best ensure women have access to all forms of evidence-based contraception and importantly, that they can use the method that is most suitable for them.

“Contraception is typically still largely a woman’s concern, which means that it is women who are paying for it. Universal access would ensure women have access to the health care required to enjoy fulfilling and healthy sexual relations; support prevention of unplanned pregnancies, reducing the need for abortion; and reduce incidence of STIs.”

The group is also calling on the government to allocate €23m for abortion care for hospital and community-based services.

Orla O’Connor, Director of NWCI said more investment is needed in vital public services, including childcare, housing and refuge spaces.

“While facing into Brexit uncertainty, with enduringly high childcare costs, and the highest rate of women homelessness in Europe, the economic decisions and political choices made in Budget 2020 will be a strong expression of our intentions as a country,” Ms O’Connor said.

The NWCI made specific requests around maternity services, contraception, and a Statutory Maintenance Agency to reduce the burden on mothers who parent alone to litigate for child maintenance.

Dr Loughnane is calling for a commitment to staffing resources to ensure proper resourcing of the National Maternity Strategy.

She said: “Without proper funding, the intentions to build a more women-centred approach to maternity care, including through establishment of a new community midwifery service to facilitate better continuity of care and more choice in birth with better information and communication throughout the different stages of pregnancy and birth, will go unrealised.”