The City of Vernon is the tenth municipality in the province to endorse access to free birth control after council voted in favour to pen a letter during the Oct. 13 meeting.
“I’m so happy to see my hometown council supporting such an important issue,” said Marisa Levesque, a medical student at the UBC Southern Medical Program and member of the AccessBC Campaign for universal free prescription contraception.
“Cost is just one barrier individuals face in accessing contraception and these barriers fall disproportionately on women and people with uteruses,” she said. “I’m grateful the Vernon council has recognized this equity issue and is showing their support to the provincial government for easier, safer access to contraception for everyone who needs it.”
Coun. Kelly Fehr brought the issue to the table at Tuesday’s meeting. He asked his council colleagues to back the writing of a letter to B.C.’s finance and health ministers, the premier and local MLA seeking support for universal access to all contraception under the provincial Medical Services Plan.
“Ensuring we provide universal access to no-cost prescription contraception is one more way the City of Vernon can break down barriers,” said Coun. Kelly Fehr. “As a society, we must always strive to provide equal access and equal health care regardless of one’s economic status, gender or identity.”
Fehr’s motion pointed to the costs of unintended pregnancies on the provincial health system as one reason to provide free prescription contraception. It also underscored that condoms and vasectomies are available at low cost, no cost or are covered by MSP.
“Contraceptive methods for people with uteruses, such as birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUD) or hormone injections, have high up-front costs,” the motion stated.
An IUD, which has a 99 per cent efficacy rate, can cost between $80-300 in British Columbia, while condoms are offered free of charge at several clinics.
After a 6-1 vote in favour of Fehr’s motion, Vernon joins the ranks of Vancouver, Victoria, Burnaby, Kimberley, Squamish, New Westminster, Cranbrook, Fernie and Alert Bay in the push for accessible contraceptives.
AccessBC co-founder Devon Black said the core of this issue is equality.
“We know that people with uteruses pay unfairly high costs in dealing with unplanned pregnancy, but under our current system, they also pay unfairly high costs to prevent pregnancy in the first place,” Black said. “This puts those of us who can become pregnant in an impossible lose-lose situation, in a way that we shouldn’t still accept in 2020.”
An Options for Sexual Health 2010 study estimates providing no-cost coverage could save the province as much as $95 million a year.
That pattern of savings has been recognized in some jurisdictions in Europe that subsidize contraception in part or full.
“Programs that offer universal no-cost prescription contraception not only make life more affordable for people, but they save governments money because the cost of offering prescription contraception at no cost is considerably lower than the costs associated with unintended pregnancy,” AccessBC chair and co-founder Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff said.
“I’m very pleased to see municipalities across B.C. adding their voice to the call for universal no-cost prescription contraception, as this policy needs to be part of any provincial recovery plan.”