Press Release - November 29, 2023
Reproductive Justice Advocates Condemn UCP Failure to Support Free Prescription Contraception
AccessBC, the campaign that successfully advocated for free prescription contraception in BC, expresses its disappointment at the United Conservative Party of Alberta’s failure to support free prescription contraception.
On Monday, November 27th, Julia Hayter, Alberta NDP MLA in Calgary-Edgemont & Official opposition critic for Status of Women, presented a motion in the Legislature that proposed that the government “consider taking the necessary steps to provide universal access to free prescription contraception, including oral hormone pills, contraceptive injections, copper and hormonal intrauterine devices, subdermal implants, and emergency contraception known as Plan B.” After a short debate, the motion did not receive support from the UCP, and it was voted down.
“By failing to support the motion, Danielle Smith and the UCP have not only missed a crucial opportunity to champion reproductive justice but have also demonstrated a regrettable lack of commitment to the principles of health, equity, affordability, and fiscal responsibility,” said Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Chair and Co-Founder of AccessBC. “Free prescription contraception is a policy that improves health outcomes for infants and mothers, makes life more affordable, increases equality, and saves governments millions.”
A 2010 study from Options for Sexual Health estimated that providing universal, no-cost contraception coverage in BC would save as much as $95 million per year, and other studies have also reported this policy to be revenue positive (see AccessBC Briefing Paper). This pattern of savings has been borne out in other jurisdictions, such as the UK, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, which all subsidize prescription contraception in full or in part.
An intrauterine device (IUD) can cost $75 to $500, oral contraceptive pills can cost at least $240 per year, hormone injections as much as $180 per year, and an implant around $350. These costs are a significant barrier to accessing contraception for many people, and fall disproportionately on women and people who can get pregnant.
“The evidence continues to show an overall cost-savings of universal no-cost contraceptive policies,” says Dr. Ruth Habte, AccessBC Campaign Organizer and Obstetrics and Gynaecology Resident Physician. “When cost is a barrier to people accessing contraception patients fall through the cracks and this puts them at risk for unintended pregnancies. Whether to patients directly or our already strained healthcare system - unintended pregnancies are costly.”
“While the government touted the existence of programs that offer assistance to some folks with low incomes, and private insurance, the reality is that this hodgepodge of programs results in many people falling through the cracks,” said Phelps Bondaroff. “For example, the high costs of contraception significantly impact young people, and while young adults may be covered through their parent’s plans, as a result, a young person is often forced to give up their privacy in order to make choices about their bodies. Depending on their situation, doing so could also put their well-being, housing, or safety in jeopardy.”
“I continue to view the negative effect that lack of access to contraception has on patients and their families,” said AccessBC Campaign Organizer and Obstetrics and Gynaecology Resident Physician Ruth Habte. “Universal access to contraception would help these patients exercise their reproductive autonomy and decrease overall healthcare costs.”
In addition to preventing unplanned pregnancies, many people use prescription contraception to treat a number of health conditions. IUDs are often used in treatment for pre-cancerous lesions within the uterus, offering a non-invasive, non-surgical method to prevent the progression to uterus cancer. Furthermore, contraception is a first-line treatment for numerous health conditions including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), bleeding disorders, and more.
There is growing momentum for free prescription contraception in Canada. In April 2023, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to make prescription contraception free, and on November 22, 2023, the government of Manitoba included a promise to implement this policy in their Throne Speech. On November 29th, a motion on free prescription will be debated in the Ontario Legislature.
In her speech to the Legislature, MLA Hayter (Calgary Edgemont) said the following (full transcript in Hansard Blues here, see p.370):
“When we have access to birth control, it allows us to pursue educational opportunities. This leads to increased graduation rates from postsecondary. Families need to be able to make choices about the sizes of their family so they can provide adequate resources and support for all family members. When we have access to prescription contraception, there is a reduction to child poverty and better outcomes for their families.”
“Universal coverage for prescription contraceptives will save Albertans money and help women to fully participate in our economy and every aspect of our society. Universal access to free prescription contraception in Alberta will ensure that more women are in control of their own lives and their economic future.“
“Many Albertans do not have health insurance plans, or their health insurance plans do not cover prescription contraceptives like IUD, Plan B, and oral hormone pills. Does the government believe that only people with a robust and progressive insurance plan should get access to prescription contraception?”
“We are in an affordability crisis here in Alberta. The cost of living is skyrocketing. It is critical that we are making vital medications and treatments available free of charge. Folks shouldn’t have to be making choices between food, paying their rent, or health care. Birth control should not be a luxury item. Prescription contraception protects the health and the well-being of so many Albertans. It is essential, and it is too often treated like luxury while people are being forced to pay large amounts of money for access.”
You can find a video of the debate here, starts at 5:00 pm.