Liz Thompson’s fight for free birth control in Ontario

Contracepti_ON Liz Thompson

I had high hopes of meeting Liz Thompson. When I got her name as a contact for our The Honest Talk story about contraception in Canada, I thought, “This is going to be a fun interview.”

What made me think that? I knew Liz was the Advocacy Team Lead for Cover ContraceptiON —- a grassroots, non-partisan, volunteer-run campaign with the goal of providing universal, no-cost contraception to all those in Ontario.

In my experience, volunteer-run initiatives with ambitious goals attract interesting, motivated, determined people.

Advocating for women’s healthcare in Canada

Liz Thompson is all those things. We often hear that somebody has wanted to be a firefighter, or an actor, or an astronaut, since they were a child. Liz wanted to be an advocate: “I always knew that I wanted to help people. From a really young age, I would speak up in class if I felt like there was some sort of injustice going on.”

She also has a heightened awareness that lets her see beyond her immediate situation and understand what others are experiencing.

“I have the privilege of living in a large community. I know that if I needed anything, I could find the support that I needed. But for anyone that lives outside of those major hubs, they’re kind of out of luck.”

An injustice that really fires Liz up is the state of women’s healthcare. “It’s unbelievable how little we know about women’s health. I am so sick of not knowing why my body has an issue, because it just hasn’t been studied.”

Advocacy in action: the campaign for universal contraception 

Fascinated by this topic, but without any medical expertise —- “I don’t like blood and guts,” Liz says —- lobbying and advocacy seemed like the perfect fit, and the campaign for universal contraception as championed by Cover ContraceptiON is one Liz has embraced.

Using her lobbying skills and knowledge of government processes to support the campaign’s co-leads, who are both currently fourth-year residents in obstetrics and gynecology, Liz is passionate about universal access to contraception for reasons that go far beyond family planning and affect our whole society:

  • Health benefits for women: Crucial in managing health conditions including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), excessive menstrual bleeding, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
  • Reduced healthcare costs: Decreases the need for more expensive medical interventions by preventing unwanted pregnancies and managing menstrual-related health issues.
  • Less strain on social systems: Aids in family planning and spacing, decreasing strain on systems like foster care and welfare, and helps in breaking poverty cycles.

“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on reactive care, because folks don’t have access to contraception,” Liz says. “If we provided access to contraception from the outset, we wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars for women who need regular blood transfusions because their menstrual bleeding is so heavy. And that’s just one example. In a time where hospitals are full —- when we’re dealing with RSV, flu, COVID —- if we proactively dealt with providing contraception to all Canadians, we might relieve some pressure on staff to care for other diseases.”

Contraception also offers a host of benefits in the areas of mental health, social equity, economics, and even workforce management —- allowing younger people to plan not just their family, but also their career journey, which will help meet the needs of our aging population.

The road ahead for  Liz Thompson and Cover ContraceptiON

It’s not just her own passion that keeps Liz going. She and her Ontario colleagues have been inspired by the success of the AccessBC campaign, which saw universal access to prescription contraception implemented in British Columbia on April 1, 2023. “They have paved the way for so many of the other campaigns and now there’s a campaign in every province.”

Over the last couple of years, Liz and the Cover ContraceptiON team have reached out to provincial members of the Liberals, NDP, Green Party, and the governing PCs to brief them on the social and economic benefits of universal contraception.

There have been bright spots —- the willingness of MPP Jennie Stevens to champion the cause, a meeting with the Minister of Health, and a motion for publicly funded, universal contraception debated at Queen’s Park in November 2023.

While the November debate didn’t achieve the commitments Liz and her colleagues were hoping for, she declares herself “disappointed” rather than “defeated,” and the evening after the debate she was vowing to keep working: “We’ll be approaching the government to educate them on the benefits of contraception over the next few months. I hope they will put forward their own motion in the new year, in advance of Budget 2024.”

Where does that energy come from? How can Liz keep moving relentlessly forward even on a day when some people might take a moment to retreat?

It all hearkens back to her inner drive: “I always say if I win the lottery, I’m not going on some incredible vacation. I’m starting a foundation to study women’s health. That’s what I care about. Every day, when I get up in the morning, that’s what I care about.”

To learn more about the current state of access to contraception in Canada, please read our previous story.