On Tuesday, February 28th, Finance Minister Katrine Conroy delivered her first budget. It contained sweeping new tax rebates and credits targeted towards providing inflation relief. It also marked a return to the red — with the government projected a $40-billion-dollar deficit. One of the most headline-grabbing budget measures was the NDP’s commitment to make prescription contraception free to all B.C. residents, starting April 1st. The initiative will cost $119 million dollars over three years. Coverage will extend to oral hormone pills, contraceptive injections, hormonal and copper intrauterine devices, subdermal implants, and Plan B – the so-called morning-after pill.
This budget measure represents a major milestone in addressing inequities in women’s reproductive health services in Canada. Policy discussions around rural-urban care gaps increased following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which dismantled the constitutional right to abortion in the United States of America. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling paved the way for some states to institute abortion bans (with criminal penalties). Seventeen states had previously implemented trigger laws. In the United States, abortion protection advocates and non-profits noted that inter-state inequities in access to health services would disproportionately impact low-income, LGBTQI+, non-cisgendered, and non-white women — many of whom would have to surmount systemic difficulties in traveling out-of-state to access care.
Canada experienced the cross-border spillover effects of American public policy discourse. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, there were pan-Canadian rallies condemning the decision. Abortion rights campaigners also directed public attention to urban-rural gaps in British Columbians’ access to abortion services. In 2019, Action Canada for Sexual Health Rights found that B.C. had only one abortion-service provider in a rural district, while there were 23 abortion-service providers in urban districts. In British Columbia — and across Canada — there are glaring regional disparities in access to surgical procedures. (Abortion care is often offered through prescription abortion pills, which can be prescribed through virtual clinical services. This option is only viable in the first few weeks of pregnancy.) AccessBC, in particular, advocated loudly for the NDP government to announce universal no-cost prescription contraception. Organizers noted the logical dissonance between providing free abortion and prenatal care, while forcing persons with uteruses to pay for their contraception.
A promise to implement no-cost prescription contraception first appeared in the NDP’s 2020 election platform, and it had been included in Health Minister Adrian Dix’s 2020 and 2022 mandate letters. The measure was noticeably omitted from their 2021 and 2022 budgets. Contraception coverage has received all-party support. The BC Greens have repeatedly called on Premier Eby to fulfill this years-old election promise. During the 2020 election, then-BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson also clarified that he supports “providing free contraception to anyone in B.C. who wants it.”
The Province of British Columbia is now the first jurisdiction to make contraception free to all residents. It’s time for the federal government to follow suit. Access to contraception is a basic human right. The federal government should follow B.C.’s example, and provide universal cost coverage for all forms of contraception.