One of John Horgan’s promises during the election campaign was to provide free contraception to all who want it.
It’s an initiative that doesn’t sit well with Laurie Throness, the incumbent MLA for Chilliwack-Kent, and his explanation of why he opposes it led to his departure from the BC Liberals on Oct. 15.
But it’s also an idea that’s not new to those who work closely with women.
The folks at Ann Davis Transition Society were lobbying for free contraception well before it was part of the BC NDP’s election platform. The society’s executive director, Patti MacAhonic, sent a letter to John Horgan in January 2020 explaining the impact it would have on women and children, as well as the province.
MacAhonic provided that letter to The Progress following Throness’s comments against free contraception, in which he compared giving out free birth control to government-led eugenics.
“I was a little surprised,” MacAhonic said, about when she heard Throness’s comments. “And it was only one person, Kelli Paddon – a women – who actually said something when he spoke to this.”
Paddon is the NDP candidate in the most recent election in Chilliwack-Kent, and is currently sitting slightly ahead of Throness in vote counts. Their exchange was during a recorded all-candidates meeting for a Rotary club. The BC Liberals and the Green Party had both said they support the plan to provide free birth control.
MacAhonic said it’s unfortunate it took negative comments made by a man to bring the issue into the spotlight, since women and women’s organizations have been pushing for free contraception for decades.
“These are things that women have tried to bring forward for many, many years,” she said. “Women’s organizations lobby and advocate for this.”
But she said it’s a good time to let the public know just how impactful free birth control could be for society.
In her letter written in January, she explained that “61 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned, which can have a ‘huge ripple effect’ on a woman’s life, particularly if she is already struggling to get by.
“This ripple effect spans across the lifespan of both mother and child in that they may be relegated to living in poverty,” she continued.
As of Jan. 14, 2020, one in five children in B.C. live in poverty.
“When women have interrupted careers it translates to a lesser pension,” MacAhonic wrote. “This is reflected in the high rate of poverty for women seniors in this province. This issue is a gender equity issue. Contraception costs usually fall on women, as well as the costs of the pregnancy. Also, family costs often revert to the women as well along with the lifetime related costs.”
For those reasons and so many more, Ann Davis is one of many women’s organizations that have been pushing for a program that provides birth control.
When she sent the letter to then-MLA for Chilliwack, John Martin, a BC Liberal, his response was supportive and he suggested contacting Premier John Horgan.
The letter underlines the savings potential in giving women the opportunity to plan their own pregnancies.
“In 2015, a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal estimated the cost of universal contraception in Canada would be $157 million, but the savings, in the form of the direct medical costs from unintended pregnancy, is as high as $320 million,” she said.
There are social aspects to consider as well.
“Providing free prescription contraception would help reduce some of the stigma that still exists around birth control,” MacAhonic added.”School-age girls trying to get a prescription without their parents’ knowledge may be prevented by a lack of money. In May, the Canadian Paediatric Society released a position statement identifying cost as a “significant barrier” to using contraception for youth.”
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