There was good news in the reproductive rights movement this week. The Institute of Medicine has recommended that birth control be a preventive service that insurance companies must cover with no co-pays under the Affordable Care Act. Now it’s up to the Department of Health and Human Services, led by Kathleen Sebelius, to enforce that recommendation.
Almost every woman I know has used birth control at some point in her life. My own parents delayed starting their family for more than a decade, enjoying their careers and being together before deciding to have kids. Birth control has near universal use (99 percent) among women of childbearing age, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And considering women are capable of becoming pregnant for more than 30 years of their lives, that adds up to a lot of medical costs.
The panel also recommended covering domestic violence counseling, sexually transmitted infection and HIV testing, cervical cancer screenings and an annual well-woman visit. Pregnant women would have greater access to gestational diabetes screening and more help with lactation counseling and equipment. Women’s health care would take a huge step forward if these recommendations were adopted.
I’ve written before about making birth control free, as have the wonderful writers at Feministing (“Opposing birth control coverage should be as ridiculous as hating puppies”). It’s the most commonsense thing we can do to prevent unplanned pregnancies and make women, children and families healthier. Conservatives should be on board because it would save $4 for every $1 spent and reduce the number of abortions. Don’t expect them to be leading the charge, however. Anti-choice activists consider contraception to be an abortifacient (despite the fact the medical community disagrees) and think people who aren’t married shouldn’t need birth control because they shouldn’t be having sex.
So it’s up to those of us who believe in science and care about women to take up this fight. Sebelius is expected to make a decision in the next couple of weeks. Please sign the petition by Planned Parenthood urging birth control without co-pays. This could be a major victory in a year that has seen more anti-women and anti-choice bills pass state legislatures than ever before.
The Department of Health and Human Services is in the process of determining what will be covered as preventive services in the Affordable Health Care Act. One area that is not covered yet but should be is birth control.
The Guttmacher Institute cites some overwhelming statistics about birth control, such as: Virtually all women (more than 99%) aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. Tens of millions of women will take birth control at some point in their lives, but for most of them, it isn’t free. There are co-pays and out of pocket expenses they have to deal with every month.
Republicans don’t get elected these days if they don’t prove their anti-choice credentials to the religious right, yet they oppose one of the easiest ways of preventing abortions: contraceptives. It should be a no-brainer that if you want to prevent pregnancies, and thus abortions, everyone of childbearing age, male or female, should have easy and free access to condoms, birth control pills and every other contraceptive option out there. Providing those services is much cheaper than paying for prenatal and postnatal care (taxpayers save $4 for every $1 spent on contraceptives) or for any government assistance mothers might have to depend on. Reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies is also good for the environment, because fewer people being born means lower greenhouse-gas emissions.
The ugly truth is that conservatives don’t think women should be having sex at all–and if they do, and end up pregnant, that’s their punishment. They’re supposed to bear the consequences–literally–by carrying their fetus to term. Conservatives are less willing to call out boys and men for doing the impregnating. When was the last time you heard James Dobson or John Boehner demand fathers to do right by their children and their children’s mothers by supporting them financially and emotionally?
A recent Planned Parenthood survey found overwhelming support among all voters (71 percent) for making insurance companies fully fund birth control. It shouldn’t even be up for debate. This is one of the times when we could really benefit from having more women in Congress. They would no doubt see the effect this issue has on low-income women and women of color. I saw a poll on CNN.com recently asking if it mattered how many women are in Congress. A majority said no, which made me throw up my hands in despair. Do they really think the male members of Congress are concerned about making birth control more accessible? A few of them are, but not enough. We need to stand up and demand that birth control be classified as a preventable service, since it does, by definition, prevent pregnancy. The crew at Feministing, as always, put it better than me, but opposing birth control should be as ridiculous as hating puppies.
If you want to help take action, sign this petition to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services. Let her know you’re not willing to compromise on this issue.