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Access Now Nova Scotia advocates for universal no-cost contraception

World Contraception Day was Tuesday, Sept. 26

To mark World Contraception Day on Tuesday, Sept. 26, Access Now Nova Scotia held a campaign event in hopes of implementing no-cost universal contraceptives for all Nova Scotians. 

The event included a panel of speakers giving their professional opinions on no-cost contraception followed by a Q-and-A period. Approximately 50 people attended.

Access Now Nova Scotia is a group advocating for the provincial government to enact a policy implementing universal no-cost prescription contraceptives for Nova Scotians.

Bringing no-cost prescription contraception to the province will increase access to contraceptives, reduce personal and government costs and create greater financial gender equity in Nova Scotia.  

A Word From the Panelists

Panellist Natasha Hines is a registered nurse and the clinical director of Wellness Within, a non-profit organization working towards health equity, reproductive justice and prison abolition. She currently works in abortion care. 

“The cost of contraceptives can make what originally seemed like a plentiful list of options become less about what is right for you and more about what you can afford,” Hines said. “We see firsthand how removing cost as a barrier will allow patients to exercise bodily autonomy and make important decisions around their reproductive journey.”

Panellist Tara Downey is a social worker at the North End Community Health Centre. The centre was started over 50 years ago to provide medical services in the historically Black North End. 

“Individuals are having to choose between feeding their family, putting gas in their car and paying for daycare,” Downey said. “Having to pay for contraceptives shouldn’t have to be a factor in someone’s financial budget.”

Unplanned pregnancies in Canada currently cost the government approximately $320 million a year. This figure takes into account the costs of abortion, prenatal care, miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and the delivery of unplanned pregnancies. 

Panellist Christine Saulnier is the Nova Scotia director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“One analysis shows that the investment [in no-cost contraceptives for the government] could be anywhere from a savings of $11 for every dollar invested to up to $90,” Saulnier said. 

Not only is the return high, but the initial investment required is pennies to the government. 

“Access to universal free contraception in Nova Scotia would cost about .33 per cent of what Nova Scotia currently spends on public health care,” Saulnier said. “As some might say, it’s a rounding error. This is absolutely something that our governments could do.”

The savings of no-cost universal contraceptives add up for the average Canadian over time. 

“One in five Canadians report spending $500 or more out of pocket for their prescription medication,” Saulnier said. “For a person who pays $25 a month for hormonal pills, free prescription contraception could save them as much as $10,000 over their lifetime.”

Affording Contraceptives in Canada

It’s not just worth a lot to Canadians over time, citizens need the savings upfront too. At least one in four Canadians report being unable to afford their prescriptions. Canada is the only country in the world with universal healthcare that doesn’t provide universal coverage for prescriptions outside of hospitals. 

Prescriptions are covered under some health plans, but not all Nova Scotians get benefits through their employer and even those with benefits aren’t immune to the costs. 

“Access to benefits through the workplace is few and far between. The lower paid you are, the less likely you are to have access to health benefits,” Saulnier said. “Even those who have access to private insurance face high deductibles and co-pays. Those are barriers too.”

Dalhousie students aren’t completely covered under their healthcare plans either according to Kristen Turtle, a registered nurse and the treasurer of Wellness Within. 

“Most student healthcare plans only cover about 50 per cent of drugs,” Turtle said. “If you’re looking at getting an IUD at $420, it’s still $210 that somebody has to cover upfront. Students don’t have that.”

Haileigh MacLeod, the moderator of the panel, is the president of the Dalhousie Nursing Society and the Atlantic regional director for the Canadian Nursing Students Association.

“A lot of students have supported this [no-cost contraception]. Like anyone, we are feeling the cost of inflation,” MacLeod said. “Having universal contraception would alleviate one of the many stressors university students face.” 

If no-cost contraception were implemented in Nova Scotia, it would only be available to those who carry a Nova Scotia health card. 86 per cent of Dalhousie students are international or from out-of-province.  

British Columbia is the first and only province in Canada to introduce universal no-cost contraception, paving the way for others to follow. 

“The B.C. government introduced no-cost contraception earlier this year and they are expected to save close to $95 million annually,” McLeod said. “Nova Scotia has the unique opportunity to join B.C. and lead Canada in health, gender and financial equity.”

However, the process from advocacy to implementation was not a short one for British Columbia.

Access BC advocated for six years for this change to be made,” said Hines. “It was just announced that they would do it on Feb. 28 of this year and it didn’t go live until April 1. It was a long road for them and it is lucky we can piggyback off of that.”

New Legislation by NDP House Leader

Member of Legislative Assembly and NDP House Leader Susan Leblanc introduced legislation last year called the Free Birth Control Act, calling for province-wide no-cost contraception. 

“It’s a gender justice issue, it [mostly] affects people with uteruses but the extending costs of unplanned pregnancies is an issue for everyone,” Leblanc said. “Our health care system is in serious crisis and this is also a cost of living issue. We should be providing more universal services so people can pay less out of pocket for the things they need.”

The best way for students to promote the need for universal coverage is by advocating with their own Member of Legislative Assembly. 

“The focus should be … the conservatives and liberals who are in the official opposition so they see that everyday Nova Scotians want this change and want this expenditure,” Leblanc said.

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