Free birth control is not enough

Since hormonal birth control’s inception, access to it has been hotly debated. Should it be free, subsidized, or full price? Should youths even be allowed to take it?

On May 9, the Canadian Paediatric Society announced what many have been saying for years: Canadian youth have trouble gaining access to contraceptives. At the same time as this not-so-revolutionary statement, they called for free birth control for youth.

Though the rate of teen pregnancy has been consistently falling for almost 20 years in Canada, there has been an uptick in the statistics of four provinces since 2010: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Manitoba. Thought to be related to poor socio-economic standing, this unique rise in the instance of teen pregnancy has understandably sparked concern among paediatricians — hence the sudden announcement.

The idea of free birth control isn’t novel. Walk-in clinics, women’s health clinics, and guest speakers in 9th grade health classes have been handing out free condoms for as long as I can remember. Providing free hormonal contraceptives is a nice idea, but it isn’t enough.

Insufficient funds aren’t the only reason women choose to forego birth control, though that’s still important to consider. Pregnancy also isn’t the only reason women take birth control, and a one-kind-fits-all approach would do little to satisfy the vast array of other reasons women may use contraceptives.

The United States is reportedly responsible for 75 per cent of the world’s birth control research funding, and yet only one company is actively researching. Hormonal birth control for men has been considered time and time again, but almost always goes into turn-around for the same side effects women experience daily. While these effects were mostly things like acne, weight gain, and mood swings, just one type of birth control killed 23 women between 2007 and 2013 in Canada alone. But what about internal contraceptives?

Considered the most effective form of hormonal contraceptive, the intrauterine device (IUD), has been linked to increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy, both of which can lead to death. The procedure used to insert the IUD can also be incredibly painful, which may turn young people off of getting one. Though the mortal risk is low, IUD injury is common. From lost toes to punctured organs, it’s clear that IUDs are not the magic solution.

Birth control sucks. In some cases, where other health issues have inspired the harrowing trial-and-error of enough different kinds of hormonal birth control to solve the overpopulation problem, there isn’t a right answer. No birth control is without side effects, some of which, from experience, are unbearable enough to warrant change in contraception.

Though it would be a smart decision to provide free contraceptives to the youth of Canada, the fundamental problems which deter some young women from using hormonal birth control have again been ignored. The only solution is the complicated one: first, we need to get birth control to a place where the benefits outweigh the side effects. Only then can we consider giving it free to the young women who will have to take it.

This is not an issue we can solve in just one or two steps. Though the process will be complicated, women everywhere will rejoice if some real research goes into developing better birth control.

Payton Ferguson

Payton Ferguson is a English major by day, 2019-20 Opinion Editor for The Gateway by night (and also day). She enjoys long walks to the fridge, writing until her wrists ache, and bombarding social media with pictures of her chihuahuas.

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