AccessBC will continue to fight for equality and accessibility across British Columbia
Jayde Atchison // Staff Writer
Annika McFarlane // Illustrator
When the Victoria City Council unanimously voted in favour to endorse advocacy for no-cost prescription contraception in BC on Jan. 23, AccessBC was optimistic that it would be included in the 2020 provincial budget. Last August, the campaign was included in the budget consultations and was in the list of recommendations, but on Feb.18 the budget was released and there was no commitment from the provincial government to include no-cost contraceptives.
“Providing universal, no-cost contraception coverage isn’t just good public health policy,” said AccessBC co-founder Devon Black in a press release. “It’s also good fiscal policy, as we’ve seen over and over in jurisdictions where this kind of policy has been implemented. Today’s budget was a big missed opportunity.”
AccessBC, a non-partisan campaign formed in 2017, is dedicated to removing barriers around accessing prescription contraception in BC. The campaign is run by a mix of lawyers, doctors, medical students, retired healthcare practitioners and journalists who are dedicated to creating equality and universally accessible contraception. As well as meeting with MLAs and providing research from other countries or states that have successfully implemented a no-cost plan, AccessBC is creating awareness and consulting with the government. A letter-writing campaign is attached to their website, encouraging residents to write to their local MLA using a 30-second fill-in-the-blank form.
A study done by Options for Sexual Health in 2010 states that the projected savings for BC, if no-cost contraception was implemented, would be an estimated $95 million. This projection includes saving on the costs of medical fees for unexpected pregnancies. Individual costs would also decrease for contraception users, and allow people to choose the most effective option provided, instead of settling for what is accessible within their budget. “It is a matter of equality. Condoms are offered for free everywhere, but the fact that someone with a uterus has to spend $380 or more on an IUD is ridiculous and unfair,” argued Teale Phelps Bondaroff, chair and co-founder of AccessBC.
Young people and citizens in remote communities are the demographics that would benefit the most from a policy change. “What happens is when people cannot afford the expensive contraception, they either go without or they turn to less reliable methods,” explained Phelps Bondaroff. “For example, IUDs are much more reliable than the pill or condoms because they have lower failure rates.”
People in remote communities sometimes put their lives in vulnerable and risky situations to obtain contraception. “[A woman] had to hitchhike to the clinic because she didn’t live in town. She got a prescription and she hitchhiked home. Then she hitchhiked another day back to the clinic to get the IUD inserted and then she hitchhiked home after having [the procedure],” Phelps Bondaroff said, sharing the experience of a woman who lives on the outskirts of 100 Mile House. Known as one of the most dangerous highways in Canada, this drastic route to obtain sexual health appointments causes concern for everyone involved. AccessBC calls for the province to help people safely secure their choice of contraception.
The only opposition that AccessBC appears to receive is from citizens concerned that passing the resolution is taking time away from the council meetings. However, the discussion to endorse the campaign took roughly 13 minutes during a meeting and did not cost the city any money.
No-cost contraceptives would have a positive impact on both the healthcare system and individuals as it reduces the financial and physical burdens of unexpected pregnancies. “In Colorado, they gave out 43,000 IUDs to young people. It cost them $28 million over the course of eight years and it saved an estimated $70 million,” said Phelps Bondaroff. “This reduced teen pregnancies by 54 per cent and teen abortion rates by 64 per cent.”
Vancouver City Council voted in favour of no-cost contraception on Mar. 3, adding to the growing support calling on the provincial government to provide free accessible birth control to all residents. “Unless prescription contraception is free, people who don’t have much money won’t have the same access to it as other, plain and simple,” said Councillor Jean Swanson in a press release. “Contraception should be just like other parts of our medical system.”
AccessBC will continue to fight for no-cost contraception and for the BC government to create more accessibility. “This is a fight we can’t afford to abandon,” said Black. “For BC residents who can’t afford to exercise full reproductive choice, the costs are just too high.”
Visit accessbc.org for more information.