Six UBC students advocated for universal access to contraception in Ottawa last week

On May 9, a group of UBC faculty of medicine students gathered in Ottawa to advocate for universal access to contraception.

As part of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students first annual Follow-Up National Day of Action, medical students from across Canada travelled to Parliament Hill to advocate for universal access to contraception. UBC sent a group of six faculty of medicine students to meet with MPs and senators to propose changes to the health care system.

“It was very rewarding to bring our medical knowledge and our voices to advocate for women and reproductive rights, especially in the context right now of Roe v. Wade,” said Michelle Lisonek, one of the UBC students sent to Ottawa.

This year’s Day of Action came a week after a draft decision of the US Supreme Court leaked that would overturn Roe v. Wade — the legal precedent that protects abortion rights.

Saman Fouladirad, another UBC faculty of medicine student that was in Ottawa, outlined the three main requests he and the other students presented in the past week: universal coverage of contraception, evidence-based sexual education and increased accessibility through allied healthcare providers.

“There is a lot of misinformation about birth control and all the different options including efficacy or what’s covered [and] what isn’t covered,” said Lisonek with regard to the students’ second request to Parliament about education. The group advocated for an increased number of public education campaigns that used information from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, a national medical society representing thousands of obstetricians and gynecologists.

Lisonek also said the group advocated for the importance of catering information to different equity-seeking groups.

“For example, [for] newcomers to Canada, or the Indigenous populations, [we talked about] how we can use their cultural beliefs or different practices to integrate that into birth control education,” she said.

Another main obstacle regarding contraception is accessibility. BC has nine abortion clinics, but some provinces and territories have four or fewer abortion clinics.

“For us, in terms of physical location, it’s very attainable to obtain the necessary [medical] things that we need. This is not always the case in more rural or northern communities. For example, these people may not have that timely access to a primary care physician to get the appropriate contraception,” explained Fouladirad.

Abortion clinics are often centred around cities, meaning people who seek abortions who live outside those areas must travel long distances and spend more money to access these services. Many smaller cities and neighbourhoods across Canada are located more than a six-hour drive away from an abortion clinic.

Reflecting on their Day of Action in Ottawa, Fouladirad and Lisonek said it was a rewarding and fulfilling opportunity.

“Going to Parliament and talking to the MPs and Canadian leaders is an absolute privilege and honour, something that I don’t take for granted,” said Fouladirad. As a 2022 medical school graduate, he hopes to bring this advocacy into “residency and beyond.”

“It was really empowering to see how many students were fighting for this issue and were passionate about it,” said Lisonek.

“We just want to continue to fight and show that it is morally and medically a good decision to have access to safe abortion and contraception.”