About the Issue
The motivation behind AccessBC's campaign is simple - there are too many people in BC who need prescription contraception and can't get it. As of 2016, about 61% of Canadian women have had an unplanned pregnancy - but at the same time, use of more reliable contraception methods like the pill have dropped markedly since 2006. Nearly one in 10 sexually active teens aren't taking any steps to prevent pregnancy.
A recent study from UBC found that "young, low-income women in Canada are less likely to use more effective methods of birth control like the pill, and more likely to use no contraception or condoms only." And that "improving access to affordable contraception may decrease the number of young women at risk of unintended pregnancy due to financial barriers."
Cost remains a significant barrier to people accessing contraception. An intra-uterine device (IUD) can cost between $75 and $380, oral contraceptive pills can cost $20 per month, a hormone injection can cost as much as $180 per year, and an implant can cost around $350. Such costs represent a significant barrier, particularly to people with low incomes, youth, and women from marginalized communities.
While there are a small number of programs in place support access to contraception (such as Fair PharmaCare in BC), these programs are largely income dependent.
Someone should not have to pass a means test or face financial burdens in order to freely exercise their right make choices about their reproductive health.
Cumbersome application processes and paperwork further discourage the use of these programs and represent additional barriers.
High costs of contraception significantly impact young people. While young adults may be covered through their parent’s plans, because a parent is almost always the primary subscriber for health insurance, a young person is therefore often forced to give up their privacy in order to make choices about their bodies. You should not have to sacrifice your privacy in order to exercise your rights!
Many other countries already subsidize prescription contraception, in full or in part; these include UK, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Luxembourg. These countries have done so because the personal, public health, and social benefits far outstrip the costs.
In fact, programs that offer free prescription contraception to women have been found to be revenue positive! This is because the cost of providing free prescription contraception to women is considerably lower than the costs associated with unintended pregnancy.
Options for Sexual Health (2010) estimated that every $1 spent on contraceptive support for a person can save as much as $90 in public expenditure on social supports. Their 2010 study estimated that the BC government could save as much as $95 million annually if it implemented a program of universal access to prescription contraception.
Access to contraception is also a gender equality issue - right now, women and people with uteruses get the short end of the stick almost every time when it comes to reproductive costs. While condoms can be easily found for little or no cost, and vasectomies are covered under MSP, the most reliable contraception methods for people with uteruses are only available with prescriptions, and can cost anywhere from around $20 per month for the Pill to $350 for an IUD or implant. If an unplanned pregnancy occurs, most of those costs fall disproportionately on women as well.
It is good social policy. Removing all barriers to accessing contraception is a powerful affirmation of the right of people to determine for themselves when and whether to become pregnant and bear children, a right supported in both federal and provincial arenas.
It is good health policy in both the preventive and therapeutic spectra. The measure will improve health outcomes for mothers and infants by reducing the risks associated with unintended pregnancy, particularly among adolescents and by maximizing the health benefits and outcomes of preparing for planned pregnancy.
It is good economic policy. The investment will yield a significant return in reduced public expenditure beyond the cost.
It is good education policy. The availability of publicly funded contraception will have a significant impact on normalizing the conversation about sexual and reproductive health, and on increasing the likelihood that school sexual health curriculum includes comprehensive, factual and non-judgmental information on contraceptive use.
It's time for the government to fulfill its promise
The BC NDP committed to making all prescription contraception free in their 2020 election platform (see page 14). Both the BC Liberals and BC Greens (page 10) supported free prescription contraception during the election. Note that PST is not charged on contraception.
The mandate letter of Adrian Dix, the Minister of Health, included the mandate to "Make prescription contraception free for all" (see page 4).
The policy was recommended by the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in its 2020 (p.47), 2021 (p.114), and 2022 (p.104) Budget Consultation Reports.
However, people in BC are still waiting for this policy to be implemented.
It's time for free prescription contraception in BC!
If you are looking for affordable birth control, or would like to learn more about different contraception options, you can find out more by visiting Options for Sexual Health or Island Sexual Health.
If you are more of an audio person, you can learn more about the issue by tuning in to this September 2021 talk by Dr. Ruth Habte, entitled: "Reproductive Justice, Health Equity & the Campaign for No-Cost Contraception in BC," for the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity.