Ireland’s Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has announced the expansion of the Free Contraception Scheme to include women aged 32-35.

From July 1, women who are ordinarily resident in Ireland and aged from their 17th birthday until the day before their 36th birthday will be eligible for free contraception under the scheme, Ireland’s Department of Health announced on Monday, June 3.

To ensure continuity of care, women who have had coils, IUDs, IUSs, or implants inserted while eligible for the scheme will remain eligible for follow-up care related to their devices after their 36th birthday, that is, subsequent checks and free removal of any devices.

The extension has been supported by an additional €4 million in funding through the Women’s Health Fund under the Women’s Health Action Plan 2024-2025, with a total of €48 million now allocated to the scheme for 2024.

The scheme is open to women, girls, and other people identifying as transgender or non-binary, who are ordinarily resident in Ireland, and for whom prescription contraception is deemed suitable by their doctors.

Almost 2,400 GPs and 2,050 pharmacies are providing services under the scheme, with more than 189,000 women accessing the service in 2023.

Minister Donnelly said: "Gender should not be a barrier to healthcare, and I firmly believe that the Free Contraception Scheme is a landmark initiative that empowers women, enabling them to make choices about their reproductive health without any financial burden.

"Demand for this service is evident, and we are responding to that demand by extending services to women aged 32 to 35 inclusive from July 1. We know that many women in this age group may be planning to start families, with 33 years being the average age of a first-time mother.

"However, it is important that we support all women in providing equitable access to services that allow them to control their reproductive health and avoid unintended pregnancies.

"Hormonal contraception is also used to treat the adverse symptoms of periods such as pain and heavy bleeding, so I’m pleased that the Free Contraception Scheme will now also provide this treatment for free to women aged 32-35.

"Amid continuing cost-of-living pressures, this scheme is a significant step forward in our efforts to provide a quality, equitable health service for all."

Ireland's free contraception scheme was introduced in September 2022 for those aged 17 to 25, expanded to include 26 to 30-year-olds last year, and expanded again in January to include women aged 31.

The scheme covers the cost of consultations with GPs, family planning, student health and primary care centres, and prescriptions for the wide range of contraceptive options available on the Health Service Executive (HSE) Re-Imbursement List.

These options include long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs), which include injections, implants, and hormonal and copper intra-uterine devices and systems (coils). The scheme also includes emergency contraception in addition to the oral contraceptive pill, patch and ring. LARC fittings, removals, injections and checks are also free of charge under the scheme.

Prescriptions are dispensed at a local pharmacy of choice. If LARCs are chosen (coils and implants, for example), patients return to a service provider participating in the scheme to have the device fitted, and subsequently removed.

All of these costs are fully covered by the State and are free of charge to the patient.

Further information regarding both free prescription contraception and the National Condom Distribution Service is available through Ireland's Health Service Executive's (HSE's) Sexual Wellbeing website.