BC becomes the first province to offer free prescription contraception to all residents

AccessBC celebrates inclusion of free prescription contraception in the provincial budget

This is an illustration of two hands passing one another a pack of birth control pills and an IUD
ILLUSTRATION: Amanda Eng / The Peak

By: Aditi Dwivedi, News Writer

On February 28, the BC government released the provincial budget for the upcoming year and announced its commitment to make prescription contraception free for all people who menstruate  starting April 1, 2023. The current program is a pilot program — it will last for three years, and may be renewed in the future.

Katrine Conroy, the minister of finance, allocated $119 million to the program for the course of three years. The program will fully cover contraception options including oral hormone pills, contraceptive injections, copper or hormonal intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUD), subdermal implants, and Plan B (also known as “the morning after pill”).

In an interview with The Peak, Dr. Ruth Habte, a campaign organizer for AccessBC and Sara Eftekhar, an AccessBC campaign volunteer, talked about the BC government’s decision to include this program in the budget and the role AccessBC played.

AccessBC is an organization which started at the grassroots level in 2017 by founder Dr. Teale Phelps. Since then, a growing team of members have dedicated their time to raise awareness about contraception in BC. The organization mobilized through public campaigns and social media, collaborated with researchers working in this field, and interacted with government officials to implement policies to create access to contraception.

According to Habte, the “budget announcement is a victory for gender equality and reproductive justice in BC, especially for patients struggling to access the contraceptive of their choice.” She stated this decision will benefit people by “preventing pregnancies, treating pelvic pain conditions like endometriosis, as well as heavy menstrual bleeding and fibroids.” 

Eftekhar added, “All forms of birth control are not just for preventing unwanted pregnancies.” She explained other uses of contraceptives can be treatment of medical conditions like PCOS or used in hormonal therapy.  

Eftekhar highlighted how universal free contraception will impact the issue of period poverty. Some people who menstruate cannot afford the cost of tampons or pads. Eftekhar said, “When you have some form of birth control, sometimes you don’t even get your period so you end up saving a lot of money as well, and this is really important because of inflation and the rising cost of living.”

Additionally, a study by Options for Sexual Health in 2010 provides evidence that more than $95 million can be saved annually if universal, no-cost contraception is provided in BC. They cited examples like Spain, Sweden, and Denmark where free contraception has been successfully implemented. 

Habte and Eftekhar expressed their concerns for the distribution and accessibility of the contraceptives to marginalized communities. According to Habte, some clinicians and physicians might “morally object to providing contraceptives” or might not be able to provide some contraceptives that require additional training. For instance, not all physicians are able to offer implants and IUDs. Eftekhar, on the other hand, pointed out how rural communities, especially Indigenous communities, do not have access to these contraception or adequate healthcare due to the lack of clinics and pharmacists in their regions. She spoke about her “work in a rural Indigenous community,” where she “saw youth who had to hitchhike to their nearest clinic to get access to birth control.” They hope the government will address these problems during the implementation of this program. 

While AccessBC is celebrating the decision as setting an example for other provinces, they acknowledge the challenges they continue to face; they have seen backlash from the public for “promoting the idea of promiscuity,” overlooking the ongoing impact of COVID-19, and the opioid crisis. Eftekhar noted how they “want to make sure that there is some way the government is monitoring this policy and they are evaluating it to make sure it’s effective in the long run.”

Find out more information on the availability of free prescription contraception on AccessBC’s website.