The B.C. NDP have pledged to make contraception options such as birth control pills, IUDs, the patch, and the Nuva ring free for all. (AccessBC)

B.C. NDP’s pledge of free birth control followed by Liberals, Greens

AccessBC says burden of paying for contraception should be carried by society, not just women

A promise of free contraception made by the B.C. NDP has led to praise from an advocacy group.

The campaign promise, announced by NDP Leader John Horgan last week, is expected to cost $60 million each year.

Devon Black and Teale Phelps Bondaroff, co-founders of AccessBC, said that they’ve been advocating for free birth control in B.C. for four years.

“We were really excited,” Phelps Bondaroff said. The group, although non-partisan, helped pass the policy at an NDP convention in 2017, the first step to getting it to an election platform.

“It’s long overdue. Every single party should have it in their platform.”

In the days following Black Press Media’s interview with AccessBC, the B.C. Greens pledged free contraception for people under the age of 25, as well as to eliminate PST on all prescription contraceptive products. Intrauterine contraceptives and oral ones are already provincial sales tax exempt.

Following comments by BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness comparing free birth control to eugenics, Leader Andrew Wilkinson tweeted that “Let’s be clear, I support government providing free contraception to anyone in B.C who wants it.” He also said he would discuss the issue with Throness, saying what the candidate “said was wrong and against my position as leader of this party.” However, Wilkinson did not announce any official promise to provide free contraception in B.C.

Phelps Bondaroff said that while free contraception from the province comes with a price tag, a 2010 report from Options for Sexual Health – a organization that offers low-cost, or free, access to sexual health and gynaecological services – found that for every dollar spent on contraception, the government saves $90 on social support programs. In total, the report estimates that the government could save approximately $95 million per year with a free birth control policy.

“This is because the cost of providing free prescription contraception to women, trans men and non-binary people who have uteruses is considerably lower than the costs associated with unintended pregnancy,” Phelps Bondaroff said.

“If you can’t afford contraception, you probably can’t afford to raise a child [without help].”

While both Black and Phelps Bondaroff acknowledge that cost is not the only barrier for many, they said it’s an important step to take. B.C. has provided free access to the abortion pill Mifegymiso since early 2018. Surgical abortion, as well as vasectomies and the more invasive tubal ligation for women, are all covered by provincial health care.

READ MORE: No-cost medical abortions ‘a game changer’ in B.C. women’s health care

Black said while the issue has been pressing for a long time, the pandemic has made free, equal access to contraception more urgent.

“There’s a lot of people who lost access to their health-care insurance that they otherwise would have gotten through their work,” she said.

“Unfortunately, ‘pink collar’ industries were among the ones hit hardest by COVID.”

“Pink collar” industries such as the service industry, which traditionally employ more women than men, have seen the worst of the job losses associated with the pandemic.

But even for those who’ve always paid for their birth control out of pocket, money is often tighter than usual these days. This especially applies, Black said, to women who prefer, or need to use, forms of contraception that are more expensive upfront.

“Long acting reversible forms of contraception are more effective than the pill,” Black said, but noted that they are much more expensive upfront, even if they are cheaper over time. Contraceptive pills cost around $20 a month, but can add up to $720 over three years, compared to a hormonal intrauterine device (IUD) that could cost around $380 but be good for between three and five years. Copper IUDs, which are popular with women who cannot tolerate hormones, can last for up to 10 years at a much lower cost than equivalent birth control pills.

Phelps Bondaroff said that long acting forms of birth control are also crucial to women dealing with domestic abuse or reproductive coercion, the latter of which means an abuser taking away their partner’s power to make choices about their reproductive health.

Black said that if government pays for contraception, it makes it a public health issue, not an individual issue placed on women, trans men and non-binary people who have uteruses.

“Even if you’re not the person paying for contraception, you’re often benefitting from it,” she said.

“This is a way of making sure that the costs for contraception aren’t unfairly allocated just to people who are able to get pregnant.”

READ MORE: B.C.’s virtual COVID-19 election campaign lacks human touch

READ MORE: B.C. parties battle over tax promises to recover from COVID-19


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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