Changing The World Through Research

BC Women’s leads the way as BC becomes first in Canada to offer free prescription contraception

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In April 2023, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to offer free prescription contraception.

This remarkable feat was spearheaded by Dr. Wendy Norman, MD, CCFP, FCFP, DTM&H, MHSc, Founder + Co-Director of Canada’s Contraception + Abortion Research Team (CART) and the Family Planning Principal Investigator at the Women’s Health Research Institute based at BC Women’s Hospital+ Health Centre.

It all started with a simple question: “Could contraception be free?” The interest of the BC government was sparked, and with that, the formation of a women’s health stakeholder group, including BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, CART and Options for Sexual Health. Dr. Norman and her colleagues ran a provincewide survey where they uncovered shocking facts.

“We learned that 40 per cent of pregnancies in BC are unintended, and the most common outcome is birth,” says Dr. Norman. “In fact, a third of all births were not planned conceptions. This has a huge impact on society, not just because they are less likely to access prenatal care, but the person or family unit may not be ready or able to raise a child at that time.” Further, government costs tend to be higher for unintended pregnancies as they have an increased incidence of admission to neonatal ICU. Dr. Norman and her team analyzed the data and created a health-economics model to show what the government was paying to manage unintended pregnancy and how that compares to savings if contraception was made free for everyone.

Through support of BC Women’s Health Foundation, this transformational study was conducted and the impactful results led to a groundbreaking change in government policy. Free access to contraception improves access to care and supports people and their choices, but there’s more. “It helps with everything: food safety, adequate shelter, appropriate education, workforce training and impact on the community,” says Dr. Norman. “Families that have planned children are better able to participate in the community, in volunteer activities, for example, outside of economics. This is helping our communities be healthy.”

Through the research conducted, Dr. Norman predicts that by the fourth year, the government will be saving $27 million annually in the health budget.

Our 2022-2023 Impact Report, highlights a handful of ways that your investments are transforming women’s and newborn health, bridging the gender gap in women’s health research, and helping to fund vital equipment and upgrades at the province’s dedicated women’s hospital.