A provincial campaign started by Saanich residents wants the provincial government to pay for prescription contraception.
Devon Black, co-founder of AccessBC, said too many British Columbians, who need prescription contraception cannot get it. “As of 2016, about 61 per cent of Canadian women have had an unplanned pregnancy,” she said.
Simultaneously, use of more reliable contraception methods like the birth control pill have dropped markedly since 2006, and nearly one in 10 sexually active teens aren’t taking any steps to prevent pregnancy, she said.
“Deciding when and how to get pregnant is one of the most important personal choices a person can make, but the numbers show that too many BC residents lack access to the tools they need to exercise that choice,” she said. “That makes this a public and a personal health issue.”
Bree Gardner, an abortion doula part of the AccessBC committee, said individuals facing barriers to reproductive health often face financial strains. An intrauterine device (IUD) can cost between $75 and $380, oral contraceptive pills can cost $20 per month, and hormone injections can cost as much as $180 per year.
This is also a question of gender equality, said Black. “Right now, women get the short end of the stick almost every time when it comes to reproductive costs,” she said. While men can easily access condoms for little or no cost, and MSP covers vasectomies, the most reliable contraception methods for women are only available with prescriptions, and can significant amounts. “If an unplanned pregnancy occurs, most of those costs fall on women as well,” she said.
Free access to prescription contraception would empower BC residents to take more control over their reproductive health and choices and would save money, said Black.
Teale Phelps Bondaroff, co-founder and committee chair of AccessBC, said programs that offer free prescription contraception are revenue positive, because the cost of providing free prescription contraception appears “considerably lower” than the costs associated with unintended pregnancy.
He said that a 2010 study by Options for Sexual Health estimates that every $1 spent on contraceptive support can save as much as $90 in public expenditure on social supports. By the study’s estimates, the provincial government could save as much as $95 million annually if it implemented a program of universal access to prescription contraception.
Chances that it will are strong. In November 2017, the committee successfully lobbied the convention of the provincial New Democratic Party to pass a policy calling for free prescription contraception.
Bondaroff said the group now seeks to push the initiative over the finish line through a letter writing campaign, and a rally outside Victoria’s City Hall as part of International Women’s Day, Friday, March 8.