VANCOUVER - The B.C. government should be providing the pill and other forms of prescription contraceptives free of charge across the province, advocates are arguing during Gender Equality Week.

Two groups, Options for Sexual Health and AccessBC, argue the cost of providing universal access to oral contraceptives, intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and hormone injections would actually be offset by the savings that would result from fewer unplanned pregnancies to the province's public health system.

They point to a 2015 study in the Canadian Association Medical Journal, which estimated that delivering universal contraception across the country would save about $320 million – roughly double the $157 million it estimated such a program would cost.

The pill can cost about $240 a year, while IUDs, which last several years, can range from $75 to $380. Those can be prohibitively expensive for low-income earners, youths and people in marginalized communities, the groups argued.

"Money should never be a barrier to someone accessing their rights," Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, co-founder of AccessBC, said in a statement.

"Anybody should be able to exercise their right to say what happens to their body, and to decide when – or if – they have children."

The groups are calling on the B.C. government to include funding for universal contraception coverage in the 2020 budget.

"We call on the government to ensure that all community clinics, hospitals, and identified health care sites are supported to carry a full complement of contraception, to ensure that choice is available based on the needs and personal preference of the individual," they said in a statement.

The Ministry of Health said PharmaCare currently covers birth control pills, injectables and some IUDs, and that people earning up to $30,000 in net income no longer have to pay a deductible following a $105 million investment into the program earlier this year.

"Under these changes, lower income women, which would include women in school and starting their careers, will have improved access to contraception," a spokesperson for the ministry said in an email.

"In addition, different clinics operated by Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health provide access to (low-cost)/ free contraception, as (do) the Options for Sexual Health clinics which are supported by the Provincial Health Services Authority."