Advocates for free contraception disappointed election promise wasn't funded in 2022 B.C. budget
While the NDP has committed to providing free contraceptives, advocates say it is not happening fast enough
A B.C. advocacy group is calling on the provincial government to provide free prescription contraception to all British Columbians after it was promised during the 2020 election campaign but not included in the 2022 provincial budget.
In a statement, Access B.C. says it was extremely disappointed in the lack of funding and wants the B.C. NDP to "fulfill its election promise to make all forms of prescription contraception universally accessible at no cost."
Teale Phelps Bondaroff, the organization's chair and co-founder, said cost is one the biggest barriers to accessing contraception in the province and noted it falls disproportionately on women.
When it was announced, the program was estimated to cost about $60 million annually.
The Ministry of Health confirmed to CBC News the estimate is accurate and said it plans to follow through.
"B.C. is committed to making contraception free in the province … we've committed to achieving this within the government's mandate and that's what we intend to do," said a spokesperson for the ministry.
However, Phelps Bondaroff says time is of the essence as the pandemic has, in many cases, exacerbated financial challenges, making birth control even further out of reach for some.
"The fact that someone in British Columbia has to decide between buying food, paying rent, paying for textbooks or accessing contraception is an unacceptable reality.
"Every single month that's delayed is another month where people are facing unnecessary barriers to accessing prescription contraception and that's unacceptable."
'Hodgepodge of programs'
Phelps Bondaroff said while some British Columbians can access free contraceptives through specific clinics, work health-care plans or B.C.'s income-based Fair Pharmacare, many still fall through the cracks.
"The current hodgepodge of programs is a problem."
While some specialty clinics in the province offer free contraceptives, accessing them depends on where you live, your age and whether the type of contraceptives offered works for your body and lifestyle, he said.
Phelps Bondaroff said workplace health-care plans can offer varying degrees of coverage, with some only covering partial costs and only including certain types of birth control.
Additionally, young people covered under their parents' plans have to give up their privacy to access the medication, making it unavailable to them in some cases.
The province's income-based medical assistance program Fair Pharmacare helps pay for some contraceptive drugs, he said but doesn't include copper IUDs, patches, rings, and diaphragms.
Contraceptives that are not covered under Pharmacare include copper IUDs, patches, rings, and diaphragms.
A 2010 study by B.C.-based Options for Sexual Health estimated, at the time, the province could save $95 million annually in medical costs related to unintended pregnancies if contraception was publicly funded in B.C.
"We know that if people can plan when they are going to have families or not, that society is more successful generally," said Michelle Fortin, the organization's executive director.
Data from Statistics Canada released in 2019 found that 24 per cent of British Columbians who are sexually active and who are not trying to conceive are not using contraception.
Options, which has over 60 clinics across B.C., offers low-cost birth control. Fortin said it's not enough for many people, and she would like to see the province provide a wide array of free contraception.
"We need to make sure that choice is a part of this … so that people can make an informed choice about what is best for them and their body and their situation," Fortin said.
Currently, no other province or territory in Canada provides free universal contraceptives.