The Obama administration’s new requirement that most health insurance plans provide contraceptive services has been turned into a political tool used by candidates on both sides of the aisle to gain votes.
But politicizing contraception jeopardizes women’s health by taking away access to a basic, preventative health care that treats and prevents many health conditions affecting women. Contraception keeps women and families healthy, reduces unintended pregnancy and abortion, and saves the United States billions of dollars in health care costs. Below is a list of five reasons why we must make access to affordable birth control coverage a priority in this country:
1. Contraception is a preventative health care that saves lives. Studies show that in addition to helping families plan pregnancies, there are legitimate health and wellness benefits associated with contraception. Birth control mitigates menstrual pain and helps women regulate their cycles, which is why many women use birth control even if they are not sexually active or have never had sex. Birth control is also used to treat or prevent many health conditions in women including ovarian cysts, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroid tumors, abnormal bleeding and anemia.
Sandra Fluke, who was prevented from testifying at Rep. Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) all-male hearing on contraception, highlighted these benefits in her prepared remarks, when she tells the story of her lesbian friend who lost an ovary due to polycystic ovary syndrome, which could have been treated with access to birth control. As Fluke points out, her friend was not trying to avoid pregnancy, she was merely trying to save her life.
2. Contraception reduces unintended pregnancies and saves the U.S. money in the process. Birth control can cost up to $1,000 depending on the method. Women who engage in sexual activity but cannot afford to purchase birth control risk getting pregnant when they do not have the financial means to care for a dependent. According to the Institute of Medicine, the direct medical cost of unintended pregnancy in the U.S. was estimated to be nearly $5 billion in 2002. The cost savings due to contraceptive use in that same year was estimated to be $19.3 billion.
3. Contraception helps space time between births, which is better for the mother and child. Studies show short periods between pregnancies have been associated with increased risk of higher mortality for children under age 5, low birth weight, preterm births, stillbirths, miscarriages, and maternal death.
4. Contraception helps women invest in their futures. Birth control helps women plan their families so they can focus on their education and their careers. Before the landmark Griswold v. Connecticut decision in 1960, which established the right to marital privacy, only 35% of college students were women. Today women represent at least 57% of students on most college campuses. Birth control allows women to delay pregnancy so they can go to school and start a career before having children.
5. When contraception availability goes down, abortion rates go up. As Keli Goff explains in her latest Huffington Post blog, "Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines, but for the last decade the nation's capital, Manila, has been at the heart of a battle over contraception. Contraception was stigmatized and difficult to access prior to 2000, when contraception was prohibited altogether by an executive order. While the abortion rate in the country has barely changed in recent years, the rate in Manila increased by more than 10%.” Based on this example, one can extrapolate that preventing access to contraception in the U.S. could ultimately lead to an uptick in abortions.
Support for contraception may forever be a litmus test for conservative values, but the decision to provide affordable access to contraception should not be determined by one employer’s personal views or beliefs.
To protect the lives of our mothers, daughters and sisters, we must give women access to affordable birth control coverage – no matter where they work.
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