"Currently, the cost burden of long-term contraception is always placed on people with uteri," Menon writes. (Stock photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition)

Topics: Justice | Opinion

Why every province needs to follow B.C.’s lead on free birth control

More contraceptive access could help reduce costly abortions and unwanted births in Canada


“Seventy-two dollars.”

That’s how much I paid for three months’ worth of prescription birth control pills in British Columbia this past January. But four months later, when I refilled my prescription, I paid nothing.

That’s because on April 1, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to make prescription contraceptives free for its residents; a $119-million budget over the next three years will later allow for full coverage. The program is the culmination of a seven-year-long wait, which began when the B.C. NDP first made the promise in their election platform. And the rest of the country should follow suit.

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“If everyone has access to effective contraception and the cost is not a barrier, that does help reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore abortion,” says Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition Canada in Vancouver. “It’s definitely a lot more cost-effective to prevent unwanted pregnancy than abortion and unwanted birth, which is very costly to the system.”

Arthur also says the movement in British Columbia can lead to more gender equity within sexual and reproductive health care (SRHC) in Canada. Currently, the cost burden of long-term contraception is always placed on people with uteri. This, however, is shifting as a result of British Columbia’s bill — now, provinces like New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario are seeing both activism and political promises geared toward free birth control.

While Canada has SRHC access enshrined in its charter, the path to care — especially abortion — is easier said than done. Even British Columbia, which boasts a decent budget allocation to SRHC, has some districts with more unregulated crisis pregnancy centres than abortion care clinics and providers.

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In 2021, the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $45-million fund for organizations providing sexual and reproductive health services. Arthur cautions that although this funding is a step in the right direction, it is nevertheless a temporary solution, while the need for sexual and reproductive health care access in Canada is permanent.

British Columbia’s April decision couldn’t be timelier either, as our southern neighbour currently faces the biggest attacks on sexual and reproductive health rights in its history. Last June, the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was overturned after 50 years, and there have now been moves to ban access to abortion pill Mifepristone in the United States.

Canada too could be impacted by this turn of events. If a federal ban of Mifepristone passes, for instance, the Canadian health-care system can potentially see increased pressure from Americans travelling north seeking abortions. To prepare for this possibility, the Canadian government will need to ensure there’s both enough stock for Canadians and improved access.

According to the United Nations, qualitative, accessible health care is a basic human right. When it comes to preventative health care in the form of birth control, Canada has some catching up to do.


Akhila Menon is a Vancouver-based journalist who is passionate about issues of social justice, health and the environment.

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