Why you should get behind the campaign for one of the most progressive policies for reproductive rights and gender equity in Canadian history
By Dr. Rupinder Toor, BSc MD CCFP FCFP
Medical Director & Founder, The IUD & NE Women’s Clinic
Founder & Chief Medical Officer, Project EmpowHer
“Girls like us, we don’t dare to dream,” a young patient once said. This statement began a journey leading me to file a petition with the Government of Canada advocating for federal universal access to free prescription contraception. Petition E-4516 closes on August 26 and has already received over 10,000 signatures in less than 30 days, the most for any open petition in Canada currently.
Universal contraception is not a new idea. It has been discussed at policy tables at the provincial and federal level, and in April 2023, British Columbia became the first Canadian jurisdiction to make prescription contraception free to all residents (and demand has since soared). This policy has been implemented in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand and is gaining momentum worldwide for good reasons.
There are clear economic benefits, with studies showing that for each $1 invested in universal contraception up to $9 can be saved in the public sector. The economic benefits are realized quickly, with the policy being revenue neutral by year two and saving money by year three.
On top of impressive solid economics, the social value of the policy is powerful. Contraception empowers individuals with a reproductive life plan. It strengthens individuals, families, and societies and can break the cycle of poverty. Universal contraception reduces abortions and improves maternal, child, and societal health overall.
Health care is typically a provincial jurisdiction, so why advocate for a federal policy? Reproductive rights are human rights and must be protected at a federal level. They should not be up for negotiation with changing ideologies of provincial governments.
Reproductive rights are currently being threatened just south of Canada’s border in the United States and elsewhere in the world. In this context, it is important to consider which policies define us as Canadians. The federal government, while having been an advocate for reproductive right and gender equity, is now being called to action with policy. And quite frankly, we are due for one. Women gained the right to vote in 1919, and contraception was decriminalized 50 years later in 1969. Fifty-four years later we are still waiting. If successful, Universal Contraception Coverage will leave a legacy as one of the most progressive policies for reproductive rights and gender equity in Canadian history.
An overwhelming majority of Canadians agree. A recent poll shows 83% of Canadians approve of free prescription birth control across Canada; 7 in 10 feel the issue is urgent. Even amongst voters of the three main federal parties and different regions across Canada, the minimum support was 75%.
For all the right reasons, universal access to no-cost prescription contraception truly is an “irresistible policy.” Simply put, it makes sense, the time is right, and Canadians deserve it. Universal contraception coverage is not only a matter of reproductive health; it is an investment in Canada’s future – because every Canadian deserves to dream of a big and gorgeous life.
Any Canadian citizen/resident including women, men, and youth (no minimum age) can sign the petition until August 26, 2023, 11:05 a.m. (EDT).