B.C. high school student calls on government to provide free prescription birth control

By Liza Yuzda and Emily Marsten

A Surrey high school student is leading the charge to get the attention of B.C.’s premier to provide free prescription birth control.

When she’s not attending her grade 11 classes, Sophie Choong is the marketing director for AccessBC, a group of British Columbians who are working to “remove barriers to accessing prescription contraception.”

“If you don’t have the resources to afford, or get access to safe, long-lasting and reversible forms of contraception, that comes with a lot of adverse health outcomes and potential financial situations that they don’t want to find themselves in,” Choong said.

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In December, Premier David Eby sent a mandate letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix, indicating the need to move forward with free contraception — something that was part of his 2020 election platform.

Eby says in the letter he “expects” the minister to prioritize making progress in multiple areas, including making “prescription contraception free for all.”

But it’s unclear on what that progress may look like, and how soon British Columbians could see the contraceptives.

“I know it’s a priority for British Columbians that reproductive health is a priority for our government and it is. We see what happens when issues of reproductive health are politicized when we look at the United States, and I’m very proud to be part of a government that prioritizes reproductive health as part of our overall health strategy,” Eby said Tuesday.

He notes that as costs in every day life continue to rise, the need for such policy is even more pressing.

“British Columbians are seeing rising costs on a number of fronts and anything we can do to assist British Columbians with the cost of everyday life, including birth control, we’re going to do that. The policy work is underway.”

Preventing pregnancy

Now, Choong says the group is trying to make sure the province keeps the promise to provide free prescription birth control.

She says you can’t stop people from sleeping together, but you can prevent pregnancy.

billboard sign on grass

A billboard sign calling for free contraceptives in B.C. (Photo courtesy Joel Satre)

“There’s no way to stop people from having sex, and as a young person, I know that reproductive justice is something that has a lot of positive outcomes for young people. But because young people face many barriers to accessing proper contraception, whether those be cost… parents approval, it’s better to have them practice safe sex than to not.”

The campaign includes a large billboard, along with advertisements set to show up on SkyTrains this week too.

“We’re trying to remind MLAs and Premier Eby of their promise to make pre-contraception free for all British Columbians. And so when they are driving to the legislature in Victoria, we want them to see that billboard and be reminded,” she said.

Cost of contraceptives

The group says the signs are to help keep the pressure on the province ahead of the February budget announcement.

With the concept of the budget in mind, Choong says instead of costing the government money, providing free birth control could save them costs in the long-run.

An ad set to run in transit, calling for free contraceptives in B.C. (Photo courtesy Joel Satre)

“The government can save up to $95 million annually by covering contraception coverage, and it means for every $90 currently spent by taxpayers in social supports, and the direct medical costs of unintended pregnancy, that could be reduced to $1 for contraceptive support,” she said.

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“The cost of contraception is disproportionately put on people who can get pregnant, and there are multiple barriers in place for people who live in rural areas, on remote Indigenous reserves, who identify differently, whether that be by gender or sexual orientation…bridging that gap means making contraception free and accessible for everyone.”

Choong says that having free prescription birth control is only the first step, and more should be done.

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“The first step is making contraception free for everybody, but the second is establishing access points so people who have a harder time getting to their health care provider, or might have other barriers in the way, can access contraception when they need it,” she said.

In a news conference Tuesday, Eby was asked about the next steps of the plan. He says planning for the budget is still underway and he isn’t making any announcements on the topic yet.

But “it is certainty something I am looking forward to,” he added.

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