The NDP is trying to drum up support for a motion that, if adopted by the Liberals, would provide free prescription birth control to women and trans people.
After successfully pushing the Conservative government to remove the federal tax on tampons last year, NDP MP Irene Mathyssen is now setting her sights on the high cost of birth control.
“The onus for birth control is always placed on women, or most often, although some men do take responsibility for their fertility, but it still comes back to women most often,” Mathyssen told VICE News. “And just like the tax on tampons, it’s not particularly fair that [the cost of birth control] be so much on women.”
Motion M-65 would call on the government to study the issue of access to birth control, and negotiate with provinces “to cover the costs of all prescribed contraceptives” while increasing transfer payments to cover the cost. While it’s currently a motion, the MP hopes the Liberals will adopt it and turn it into a bill.
Prescription birth control in Canada can be expensive, with the pill costing around $20 per month, and IUDs costing up to $400 upfront. At Toronto’s Planned Parenthood, which subsidizes the cost somewhat, birth control pills cost $7 to $23 a month, the Depro Provera shot costs $18 per month, the Nuva Ring costs $10 a month, Plan B costs $13, and hormonal IUDs cost up to $380. Even low-cost or clinic-subsidized birth control can be too expensive for people in their late teens and early 20s who have low-wage jobs and university tuition to worry about.
Of straight-identifying Canadian women who are having sex but not trying to conceive,15 percent report using no birth control at all, according to a 2009 survey of 2,700 Canadian women. The same survey found condoms were the most popular form of birth control (54.3 percent), followed by oral contraceptives (43.7 percent) and withdrawal, or pulling out (11.6 percent). Only 65 percent of those surveyed said they “always used” contraception. Though similar studies in 2006 and 2008 had similar findings, no newer data is available.
One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime in Canada, with more than half of those undergoing abortions aged 20 to 29, according to a 2015 research paper, “Barriers and Facilitators to Family Planning Access in Canada,” compiled by researchers at the University of Toronto, McGill University, the University of British Columbia and Laval University.
The same paper found that “cost was the most important barrier to contraception” in Canada, with young people and people of low socioeconomic status “disproportionately affected by unintended pregnancy and abortion, raising concerns about their access to quality contraceptive education and healthcare.”
“In my office last week, I had a young woman who wants to have an IUD, and she cannot afford it,” a family physician in BC told the paper’s researchers. “She does not have $200 for an IUD. And so she is using [the] withdrawal method. I was appalled that this is happening now. I’ve been in medicine for 40 years and things have not improved very much in those 40 years. So in my opinion, the government or somebody should subsidized all contraception to make it as cheap as possible generic viagra drugs so it’s easy to access for all women.”
While cost was found to be the most important barrier to contraception, the paper also identifies other barriers to birth control that the MP’s motion would not address, including inconsistent sex ed across the country and within provinces, and limited access to family physicians in rural areas. Immigrant women, young adults, and women in Northern and Indigenous communities were identified as particularly vulnerable groups who did not have good access to contraception.
Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, completely supports the motion and hopes the Liberals adopt it, however he added the government also needs to remove other barriers to birth control and invest more in sex education.
“The other issue that I’d like to flag that the motion doesn’t address is a large national discussion happening right now on mifegymiso, which is a medical abortion drug that Health Canada has granted approval for,” he told VICE News.
“It’s going to hit the market in November, so we expect it to be available next month. One of the big issues in this discussion is also cost coverage of [mifegymiso], and the issue is exactly the same. We will have a large chunk of people who are opting for surgical abortion because they do not have access to the drugs.”
The NDP will have to convince the Liberals to support Mathyssen’s motion, but the MP says that won’t be hard.
“He’s a feminist isn’t he?” she said of Justin Trudeau. “And isn’t this 2016? It’s time that we caught up with the clinical and medical needs of women.