Sarah Leamon: Universal contraception makes good social and financial sense for Canada

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      Last month, two groups in B.C. made a lot of noise about an important issue that is normally kept pretty quiet—birth control. 

      During Gender Equality Week, Options for Sexual Health and AccessBC both argued in favor of the B.C. government providing oral contraceptives and other forms of prescription birth-control methods to folks across the province, free of charge. 

      But of course, nothing is actually free of charge.

      It is estimated that a universal birth control program would cost roughly $157 million to administer in this country, each year.  It’s nothing to sneeze at, particularly when our governments are already running large deficits. 

      But before we dismiss the idea due to the price tag, let’s consider the strain caused to our public health system by failing to properly equip people with proper family-planning tools. 

      It may surprise you to learn that, every year, there are more than 180,000 unintended or unplanned pregnancies in Canada. The associated direct cost of these pregnancies amounts to over $320 million; and that doesn’t take into account the indirect costs, such as those associated with labour force losses and staff retraining, for example. 

      It is also estimated that approximately 82 percent of unintended or unplanned pregnancies for Canadian women between the ages of 20 and 29 happen due to issues with either properly accessing or taking contraceptives. Monetarily speaking, this amounts to roughly $175 million dollars per year due to inadequate birth control access. 

      Another study in the Canadian Association Medical Journal, which was conducted in 2015, yielded similar conclusions. 

      It stated that delivering universal contraception across the entirety of Canada would actually save about $320 million, even after dealing with the administrative costs associated with running it.   

      Not only is bodily autonomy and control over the ability to choose when to have children—if at all—a fundamental human right, but it appears that providing universal access to contraceptives would make good fiscal sense, even in spite of the costs associated with administering it. 

      When looking at the dollars alone, this plan seems to make good sense. 

      But there is a moral angle to this proposal as well.

      Providing all people with access to oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, and hormone injections serves our citizens and our communities well. It empowers non-trans women to gain access to birth control methods they see fit for themselves, with one less barrier to doing so. 

      Control over one’s body—and the genuine ability to choose when it comes to reproduction and reproductive health-care services—is a central component of any well-functioning, humane society. 

      The basic right of all people to freely and responsibility exercise choose over their reproductive functions is a basic human right that Canadians simply cannot go without.  

      Providing universal access to contraception will only enhance this right. 

      And while some may consider this conversation to be closed, and universal contraception to be therefore unnecessary, given that our highest court has ruled on this issue many years ago, we cannot discount the fact that reproductive rights—in general—are under attack. 

      The bevy of restrictive and downright draconian laws in relation to women’s reproductive choice  being passed in the U.S. are proof positive of this uncomfortable reality. Not to mention the fact that we have a federal party leader, running in our federal election—right now—who has previously expressed opposition to the availability of abortion in this country.   

      Let me assure you, this conversation is far from being closed, and our future is uncertain. 

      So now, more than ever, Canadians should double down on reproductive rights and freedoms. We should protect our cultural values and our commitment to the advancement of women and girls. To that end, we should seriously consider committing to a universal contraception program.

      Not only will this relieve some fiscal pressure on our communities, but it will also enhance the reproductive rights of non-trans women and acknowledge their personal autonomy, dignity, and experience.  

      We really shouldn’t settle for anything less.