B.C.’s free prescribed contraception plan has advocates ‘elated’

Advocacy group AccessBC says it is overjoyed after B.C.'s budget announcement included a plan to move forward with offering free prescription contraception starting in April.

Free contraception advocacy group AccessBC is overjoyed after the province announced Tuesday it would go through with making prescription contraception free.

Announced in B.C.’s 2023 budget update, the change is set to go into effect Apr. 1, 2023. Free prescription contraception was promised as part of former Premier John Horgan and the BC NDP’s 2020 election campaign.

AccessBC’s campaign organizer Dr. Ruth Habte says the group is “elated that B.C. has made history” by making this announcement.

“Today’s budget announcement is a victory for gender equality and reproductive justice in B.C., especially for patients struggling to access the contraceptive of their choice,” she said.

Nearly all kinds of contraception are covered in this announcement, including; most oral pills, injections, copper and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs), implants, and Plan B (also known as the morning after pill).

AccessBC explains an IUD can cost up to $500, while prescribed oral contraceptive pills are priced at $240 or more yearly. All of these costs add up to as much as $95 million yearly across B.C. alone.

This kind of change in how contraception is handled across the board isn’t a new idea either, eliminating these costs is a path that has been followed at least partly in European countries like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany. However, B.C. is the first province in Canada to head down the free contraception route.

“There is no ambiguity surrounding the cost-savings of universal no-cost contraceptive policies,” said Habte. “Including universal no-cost contraception in the budget is supported by evidence and is the right move for patient care.”

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Fully providing free prescription contraception will cost the province $119 million over three years as outlined in the 2023 budget. B.C.’s Minister of finance, Katrine Conroy, says women having total control of their reproductive rights moving forward sat at the top of the priority list.

“We know costs vary – but it really adds up. For someone who pays $25 a month for birth control pills, that’s $300 in savings every year. And as much as $10,000 in savings over their lifetime,” she said. “As the mother of two daughters and five granddaughters, I know the effect this is going to have on people’s lives in our province.”

“This is a win for health and it’s a win for gender equity in our province. It’s about time. The days of passing down these costs to women and trans and non-binary people are coming to an end,” Conroy added.

AccessBC had been calling for a change like this since 2017, and the group’s co-founder Teale Phelps Bondaroff says it all started as a small group of people wanting to make positive change and “resolve an obvious injustice.”

“It’s inspiring to see people from all across the province come together to fight for equality and reproductive justice,” he said.

“This is a huge win for equality and it comes at a very important time. As we see the roll back of reproductive freedom south of the border and around the world, B.C.’s leadership will make the province a beacon of hope for reproductive justice, and hopefully lead to the adoption of this policy more widely.”

AccessBC says, over the past six years leading up to this announcement, the group has sent thousands of letters to MLA’s and ministers.

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