AccessBC advocates for no-cost prescription contraception

The group raises cost and privacy concerns surrounding the current health record system

Photo Courtesy of AccessBC

by Jaymee Salisi, News Writer

AccessBC is pushing for various types of contraception (such as the contraceptive patch, implant, and oral pill) to be available to all BC residents at no cost. “Access to contraception in BC is recognized as a basic human right, but unfortunately many people in BC can’t access this right,” they stated.

The Peak interviewed Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, chair and co-founder of AccessBC, Dr. Ruth Habte, resident physician at UBC gynecology, and SFU alumni and UBC medical student, Samuel Kirk, to find out more about the group’s campaign. 

The AccessBC committee believes their policy aligns with the fundamental principles of the Canada Health Act, which are “public administration, accessibility, comprehensiveness, universality, and portability.” According to these standards, the advocacy group concluded that making no-cost prescription contraception available to all residents of BC is the ideal plan, but “if [Parliament] wants to make a slightly less than ideal plan, that’s on them.” 

Dr. Habte noted that people often do not seek prescription contraception because they cannot afford it and “might be reluctant to talk to [a doctor] about it.” Additionally, they may not be aware of their options due to the taboo surrounding conversations about sex. Dr. Habte explained that the lack of sex education increases the risk of unintended pregnancies. She stated that removing cost barriers might open up discussion and allow more people access to information about reproductive health. 

The group explained that the cost of universal prescription contraception is lower than the expenses associated with unintended pregnancies, such as abortion and child care subsidies. AccessBC claims their policy recommendations could save the government $95 million annually by taking preventative care of patients. They estimate that the assistance a young person would need to raise a child for 18 years could cost the government $167,000. A 2010 study showed that the average woman spends less than $4,000 over the course of 30 years on contraceptive products. 

When asked why no-cost prescription contraception doesn’t already exist Dr. Phelps Bondaroff said, “We see a lot of sexism inherited in a wide range of policies.” He cited an example of Canada previously taxing menstrual products until 2015. He also noted that the pink tax, which upcharges products aimed toward those with uteruses, contributes to sexism.  Studies have found that items marketed to women cost at least 30 cents more than the same products marketed to men. The group claims that taboos surrounding conversation about sex have also prevented policies aimed at improving women’s reproductive health from being implemented in the past.

Contraceptives for people with testicles and penises, such as vasectomies and condoms, “are widely available and free for the most part,” Dr. Habte added. As a result, she assumes that the government does not recognize the inaccessibility experienced by people with uteruses “as an important issue in some respects and I think a lot of that has to do with sexism.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced greater financial and health disadvantages to prescription contraception due to loss of employment and the risk of going to clinics, Dr. Phelps Bondaroff added. He said that the issue is “central to people’s lives, to their health, and to equity and equality. And it’s something we need in this province as we move forward out of the pandemic,” he emphasized.

The Peak reached out to Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Grace Lore, but did not receive a response by the publication deadline.

Some cities have endorsed the AccessBC Campaign, including Victoria, Burnaby, and Vancouver. The committee encourages anyone who supports their policy to write the Premier to include universal no-cost prescription contraception in BC’s 2021 budget.