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Big News: Double-Dutch Contraception Lessons

Big News with Dave Crampton

Double-Dutch Contraception Lessons

Well, its not often that the moral minority looks to a country such as the Netherlands to give them a benchmark to back up their moral and ethical beliefs. After all, the Netherlands tolerate prostitution, cannabis, euthanasia, and homosexuality. In 1971 they opened their first illegal abortion clinic and 10 years later legal abortion was enacted, effective from 1984. That’s six years after we legalised abortion.

But the Netherlands currently has the lowest abortion rate in the Western world. In 1999 the rate was 7.4 per 1,000, compared to the 19.9 per 1,000 New Zealand women. Kiwi campaigners want their rate lowered, and are using the Netherlands as a benchmark. The Abortion Supervisory committee maintain that Dutch people have a better commitment to sex education and contraceptive use – but they are wrong, on contraceptive use anyway, as studies show they don’t use contraceptives any less than we do. So how do they keep their rate so low?

Last year there were on average 62 abortions every working day in New Zealand, enough to wipe out two classrooms of students a day, until the tally reached 16,013, up from 15,501 in 1999. One in five of the women were teenagers and pro-lifers would like to see that lowered. Some would like to see contraceptive use lowered too. Some of them would like pre-marital sex banished, but they know it will never happen. Research done by Wellington campaigner Marilyn Pryor, in a book to be launched next week, maintains contraception is not the solution, it is part of the problem. Confused? I was too, so I read her book Abortion in the Netherlands – why Holland has the lowest abortion rate in the world. Ms Pryor is pro-life.

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Being pro-life doesn`t condone abortion or contraceptives. Being a Catholic may have shaped those views, as explained in an article in the Wellington diocese paper Wel-com, entitled Research shows the Catholic Church got it right. By right, she meant that contraceptive use is part of the problem. But is she right? Maybe it could be that the Dutch are better at using contraceptives properly.

They definitely have better sex education - and they do it in schools. Sex education is administered by the Dutch equivalent of SPUC, as the Family Planning group has nowhere near the profile it has down under. Imagine if Family Planning were to run sex education classes in schools here – teachers wouldn’t want them on their territory.

Most people in Holland don’t use condoms, the pill is their main form of contraceptive – in fact more than any other forms of contraception (including no protection) combined. I don’t need to tell you that in NZ we usually use the pill and/or the condom. For over 35 year olds in both countries, sterilisation is the preferred option.

Ms Pryor compared Dutch culture and values with NZ values. She covered family structure, sexual experiences and contraceptive use. Quoting a 1995 survey, her studies showed that children are 3.5 times more likely to be born into one parent households in New Zealand than the Netherlands, and pointed out that New Zealanders were three times more likely to be born out of wedlock than the Dutch. This supports an assertion that a household with two married parents is healthier than a one parent household. However it is interesting that in the same survey the Netherlands had a higher proportion (54%) of households contained married couples, compared with 44.9% in New Zealand.. So although Kiwis are more likely to be born out of wedlock, they are less likely than the Dutch to be in two parent homes, perhaps? The reason is that more than a third of Dutch households are one person households, but in New Zealand as we tend to congregate in either families, with flatmates, or with someone of the same or opposite sex.

Maybe that is also why teenage Kiwis are ten times more likely to be living in a de facto relationship than their Dutch counterparts. This backs an assertion that Kiwis are having more sex, as if teenagers live together, they have sex more often, increasing the risk of getting pregnant, with or without contraceptive failure or use. In 1995 just 4% of Dutch teenagers were living in a de facto relationship. Although no survey was done on New Zealand teenagers, 39 percent of women in their 20’s said they had lived in a teenage de facto relationship. Sounds dodgy comparison to me. Kiwis are ten times more likely than the Dutch to have romping stomping de-facto sex? This leads to increased risk of an abortion, increasing the teenage proportion of the abortion rate. Really??. Why, then is our teenage proportion of the abortion rate only 30 percent higher than the Dutch proportion of the rate when our teenagers are supposedly exposed to ten times the risk? The report didn’t say.

The report mentioned that Kiwis used condoms or the pill, whereas the Dutch used condoms or the “double –dutch” combo” of condoms and the pill, which has a much less failure rate. Sounds like McIntercourse. Maybe that is the answer but it doesn’t address the actual abortion rates, just the proportion of the rate that refers to teenagers. It certainly doesn`t back up any anti-contraception stance. In any case you can’t get a qualitative analysis when comparing those currently living in a defacto relationship in one country with those in another country who say they lived de-facto several years prior.

Ms Pryor also maintains that Kiwi women in their 30’s rely on sterilisation much more than the Dutch, and noted that sterilisation is a safer method of contraception than the pill. She didn’t say that Dutch women also rely on the pill more than Kiwis do, which will explain why condom use in Holland is so low compared to NZ. Maybe teenagers make up 20 percent of abortions in New Zealand - as compared with 13 percent of abortions in the Netherlands – as they place a greater reliance on condoms? .

Why has Holland got a lower abortion rate? Well, there are two reasons. Fewer pregnant women, pro-rata, go to abortion clinics to have abortions. It’s obvious, really. A greater proportion of them use the safer pill instead of relying on condoms, as do Kiwis. Maybe they use contraception more effectively. Women’s magazines in the Netherlands are packed with advice on the correct use of contraceptives. Maybe they seem to strike their cycle at the right moment, rather than hitting the jackpot.

The debate will go on. Maybe the Catholic Church haven’t got it right. All country abortion rates will go up if nobody used contraceptives, then what would Ms Pryor say? But it’s not about contraceptives or safe sex anyway. Its not even about sex education – Sweden has had compulsory sex education in schools for years and their abortion rate is higher than ours. Ever thought of abstinence or picking the right moment in your cycle? It’s called self –control birth control.

Then again, for most people that’s not an option, so its back to the contraceptives and hope they work.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist, in addition to writing for Scoop he is the Australasian correspondent for He can be contacted at

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