Removing barriers to contraception

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A copper IUD beside a prescription paper with the words “Free in Manitoba” on it.
It’s 2023, should we really have to pay for health services in Canada? lee lim

Manitoba is making prescription contraception more accessible

Reproductive healthcare in any nation is a public health priority, as it shapes the overall well-being of its citizens. Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system reflects the commitment to its residents’ health and claims to ensure that basic healthcare is accessible to all. Contributing to this commitment, it was announced on November 21, 2023 by the Manitoba NDP that birth control would soon become free and accessible to all Manitobans with a prescription.  

This bold move to equalize women’s healthcare follows the footsteps of that of British Columbia, the first province in Canada to make most contraceptives free. This policy focuses on prescription birth control, and excludes cervical caps, condoms, diaphragms, birth control patches, rings, and sponges. This program is a step toward aligning with the values of free healthcare, and has created a ripple-effect across other provinces. 

          The introduction of both Manitoba and British Columbia’s free prescription contraception makes it accessible to minoritized and low-income people in communities that are without birth control and other family planning options. The Manitoba NDP stated: “Many young Manitobans face barriers to accessing birth control, putting them at higher risk of unplanned pregnancy. Removing barriers will give women, trans men and non-binary people greater control of their lives, improve their health outcomes and reduce overall costs to the healthcare system.” 

          Dr. Omolayo Fafudiye, medical director and founder of the Layo Centre, a clinic that focuses on reproductive health and contraception stated in an interview with Winnpeg’s CityNews that “women should have a say if this is what they want and removing the barrier of cost is paramount, we can no longer assume that every patient will have a private plan.” 

This step not only reflects the importance given to the equity of gender-based healthcare in Canada, but also the idea that contraception could be more accessible by removing costs. Contraception is the best option to prevent unintended pregnancies, so making it accessible will encourage people to use it.  

          According to Guttmacher Institute, between 2015 and 2019 there were a total of 570,000 pregnancies every year. “Of these, 265,000 pregnancies were unintended and 97,500 ended in abortion.” Making contraceptives accessible to all would help lower the number of unintentional pregnancies, the number of abortions necessary, and improve the health outcomes of the mother and child. 

          This plan, when implemented, will increase access to birth control for rural and lower-income individuals. Lorie English, Executive Director of West Central Women’s Resource Centre, told CityNews, “Folks who live outside the city, for example, where there aren’t a lot of social service agencies, where they might not be able to be connected […] to free birth control. To know that can now be sought from any medical clinic, any family doctor, it really does increase everyone’s access. So, it’s a win-win on all sides.” 

The Manitoba NDP announced that their commitment includes oral contraceptives, the morning-after pill, copper and hormonal intrauterine devices also known as IUDs, and hormonal contraceptive injections. The commitment does not include condoms, however. Instead, students can get free condoms at the Rainbow Pride Centre at the University of Manitoba and other sexual health-promoting organizations across the province.   

          As much as introducing no-cost contraceptives seems to be a good plan, there is also a side that is unexplored. Publicly funding contraceptives would require a larger healthcare budget, which could mean an increase in taxes to cover the cost. This, in turn, could raise the amount of sales tax paid by taxpayers, leading some to disapprove of the plan by default. However, this plan is being implemented in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavian countries. There is a similar plan in France, where residents aged 25 and over can get reimbursed.  

          The normalization of accessible, free contraceptives may also have an impact on the normalization of the conversation about sexual and reproductive health, and the likelihood that sex education would be done appropriately, in a non-judgmental manner. The idea to make contraceptives accessible may make the youth curious about it, encouraging them to learn more about it and use it properly as required.  

This would increase awareness and access among the younger generations. Besides supporting  those who may otherwise struggles to afford this part of healthcare, this plan would also be able to support teens and young adults in preventing unintended and potentially unwanted or harmful pregnancies. 

          Introducing free contraceptives in Manitoba is only going to send waves across the nation, such as in Ontario, where a plan to launch a similar program is being explored. London West’s MPP Peggy Sattler said in a recent media release: “We know from the research that [free contraceptives] is an investment that actually saves money by reducing all those healthcare costs associated with unwanted pregnancies down the road.” This could be a stepping stone to a nation-wide revolution in the conversation of contraceptives. 

           Free contraceptives are just one of the steps towards making healthcare more accessible and legitimately helpful to people with a uterus. As the world continues to evolve day-to-day, there is still research being done into implementing programs like these. Since the program is free, there may be unforeseen cuts and shifts in other budgets to fund the program. 

Other provinces, like Ontario, are researching and watching British Columbia and Manitoba to see how the program turns out. If the program is successful, it may encourage more provinces to implement similar programs. The research also includes strategically deciding the specifics of the contraceptives to be provided for free as well as planning out the finances and budget to make it accessible for all. 

          Manitoba has yet to release its guidelines and procedures to access free contraceptives. This plan seems bold and progressive, and may create a ripple effect across North America. This program may be the start of nations considering better quality and more inclusive programs to improve their residents’ quality of life, and the quality future generations will inherit. 

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