The next step in women’s sexual freedom is access to free contraceptives

Women already disproportionately bear the financial burden of childbirth and care

The most effective forms of birth control end up costing women much more than men. Illustration: Anthony Liao/The Peak

By: Meera Eragoda, Staff Writer

As someone who has had the experience of having my birth control switched up about seven times due to side effects, I’m well aware of the cost of prescription birth control. Each switch has increased the cost until it went from $20 to $80 per month. There is an egregious gender bias apparent in many aspects of consumerism, and sex is no exception. In order to enjoy safer sex, women and those with uteruses are unfairly tasked with the cost and responsibility of obtaining contraceptives, as well as having to deal with their side effects — from spotting to mood swings to depression. Men, comparatively, face none of these barriers. If women are going to be saddled with so much of the social burden of sex and family planning, then at the very least they need access to free birth control.

Currently, if women and people with uteruses want to use the most effective methods to prevent a pregnancy, then they require costly prescriptions that their male counterparts don’t. Take intrauterine devices (IUDs) for example. According to the Candian Paediatric Society, IUDs “are the most effective forms of birth control available and doctors should recommend them to adolescent girls before any other method.” They are, however, also the most expensive, with a cost of up to $380. While oral contraceptives on average are attainable at a lower cost up front, they are also subject to greater human administration error. If doctors are advocating for IUDs over oral contraceptives, these options need to be made financially feasible.

With the system we have now, the burden is on women to navigate the medical system, and in many cases, to shoulder the cost of contraceptives. Young women especially have to either come up with the money themselves, or rely on their parents’ health plans — something that requires giving up their privacy. Obtaining contraceptives tailored for men, on the other hand, is as easy as a trip to the grocery store for a pack of condoms. 

The likelihood of a male oral contraceptive coming our way anytime soon is incredibly low. Previous attempts to introduce the “male pill” have been unsuccessful due to concerns surrounding side effects such as acne and severe depression. Men just aren’t motivated to risk these side effects, especially since they’re not at risk of becoming pregnant themselves. Besides, they have access to condoms, which are already cheaply available, if not downright free. 

However, condoms have a higher risk than other contraceptives of not working, and don’t protect from external pressures to not use one. Women who aren’t able to afford more effective forms of contraceptives may then be forced to rely on condoms and their partners’ willingness to use them, increasing their risk of an unplanned pregnancy.  

During the time my doctor was experimenting with different oral contraceptives for me, I was privileged enough to have full-time employment and took advantage of extended health benefits. While I no longer have full-time employment, I still have the SFSS Health and Dental Plan which offers coverage for up to 80% for oral contraceptives. However, most youth, low-income, and marginalized people with a uterus do not have these options. 

In order to combat this, AccessBC, a grassroots campaign started by young activists based mainly in Victoria, is advocating for free contraceptives for everyone with uteruses. Their campaign seeks to decrease the number of unplanned pregnancies (experienced by 61% of Canadian women) by making prescription contraceptives free for all women and people with uteruses. The group notes that this will significantly decrease the number of annual unplanned pregnancies, and the associated financial burden this places on women. 

We currently occupy a privileged position of being able to attend post-secondary education (although it might not feel that way because of all the debt). Studies have shown that for women and people with uteruses, access to contraceptives hugely increases the ability to attend and remain in a post-secondary institution. If financial barriers to contraceptives are unfairly gendered, then isn’t the simple solution to remove them? As university students, shouldn’t we be trying to uplift everyone to our level, not letting sexist policies derail access to higher education, among other things? It’s time we all join AccessBC in their fight. Write to your MLAs today — free contraceptives should have been a thing yesterday!