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Grassroots group celebrates campaign that gave B.C. free contraception

A few friends complaining about expensive birth control turned into a provincial motion
The AccessBC campaign for free prescription contraceptives started in Saanich in 2017. Six years later the motion passed. (Courtesy of AccessBC)

Saanich Coun. Teale Phelps Bondaroff remembers a time when he and a few friends gathered in his kitchen, venting about how expensive birth control was in B.C.

“I was complaining that my partner’s IUD had cost $375,” said a frustrated Phelps Bondaroff, who is a co-founder of AccessBC, a group that set out to fix this problem across the province.

Devon Black, the other co-founder of AccessBC, said those early conversations led to action.

“As those conversations sometimes go, on eventually one of us said, ‘Well somebody ought to do something about that.’ Then we looked at each other and were like, ‘We’re somebody’ and that’s kind of all how it got started.”

After that conversation, AccessBC and the campaign for free contraception were formed, leading the province to fund the initiative earlier this year.

Many of the first few members of AccessBC are “active in the NDP,” said Phelps Bondaroff. This helped AccessBC as they passed a motion for free prescription contraception at the BC NDP convention in 2017.

According to Phelps Bondaroff, “we went and sat down and talked to the B.C. Ministry of Health with a bunch of their officials right after they were elected and we’re like, ‘Hey, so you adopted this resolution at the convention and so when should we see it rolled out?’ Their response was like, ‘Look, it’s a good policy and it’s a good one among others, but we need it to have a higher profile.”

After the convention, AccessBC launched a series of public advocacy campaigns.

“We sent in tens of thousands of letters over the course of six years of different waves of letter-writing campaigns. We mobilized endorsements of municipalities. Thirty-six municipalities endorsed our policy, including all delegates at UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities) in 2020,” added Phelps Bondaroff.

AccessBC also participated in budget consultations and put up billboards.

“It’s been a lot of writing letters and sometimes you move forward, sometimes things stay the same or take a step back,” said Black.

Eventually, AccessBC saw the light at the end of the tunnel in February, when free contraception was in the B.C. budget. The budget included $119 million over three years to fund free prescription contraception across the province. Then on April 1, the provincial government rolled out free prescription contraception in B.C.

This included IUDs, pills, injections, and Plan B.

“The really cool thing about Plan B is we didn’t even think to ask for Plan B, the government just included it,” said Phelps Bondaroff.

The decision was an emotional one for the group.

“It was a lot of ups and downs definitely over the course of the campaign,” said Black. “When we got the news on budget day that contraception was going to be free for everybody in B.C. I cried a little bit. I also felt a lot of relief because, in the course of the campaign, we met so many people who in some cases had some really heart-wrenching stories about the difficulties that they had.”

Phelps Bondaroff’s main job is now writing reference letters for all team members applying to university or grad school.

“I was just writing a reference letter for our marketing director who’s a Grade 12 high school student in Vancouver, who ran our entire billboard campaign.”

That student is Sophie Choong. She attends Southridge High School in Surrey. When she contacted AccessBC, she was given three ways she could get involved. Her options were to send cards out around her school, help the social media team, or raise $5,000 to put up billboards in metro Vancouver and Victoria. Choong decided to pick the latter and most tasking of the options.

“I’m the only high school student on the campaign,” said Choong. “So I know a lot of the other volunteers have a lot more experience than me, but it felt rewarding to see all of our hard work pay off.”

Currently, AccessBC is supporting its sister campaigns across the country. They’re supporting, Cover ContraceptiON (Ontario), Birth Control Access Manitoba, NB Abortion Care Network (New Brunswick), Universal Access to Contraception Saskatchewan, and the newly established Access Now Nova Scotia that launched its campaign on World Contraception Day this year (Sept. 26).

“There is a growing national movement for free contraception,” said Phelps Bondaroff. “The great thing about B.C. is they stepped up and the government has adopted an incredibly progressive and positive policy that’s inspiring change across the country.”

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