The recent election has women clutching their ovaries and heading to their gynecologists for birth control — especially IUDs, which will outlast Trump’s presidency. Why? Because Trump has promised to repeal Obamacare. Whether or not this will happen in a swift and decisive manner like his attempted immigration ban is unclear.
An article on CNN Politics says, “There's no doubt that overhauling President Barack Obama's legacy accomplishment remains an urgent political priority for the GOP. Trump explicitly ran on undoing the law as a presidential candidate...but despite the impassioned rhetoric from years past — and despite being armed with the powerful advantage of controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House — Republicans are increasingly eager to cast the process of dismantling Obamacare as a long-haul marathon.”
Regardless of whether Obamacare goes away completely or is revamped piece by piece, one thing that can’t be denied is that we need to protect women’s rights to free birth control. This controversial topic, like every other, has been used by both parties to gain votes. Politics aside, there is factual, data-driven proof that denying women free (or, at the very least, affordable) access to contraception has serious financial, physical, and societal repercussions.
The State of Birth Control in America Today
In 2010, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Also known as Obamacare, this legislation was meant to reform healthcare in the United States. Two of the most notable things that it did was give more people access to affordable healthcare and provide women with free preventive services, including access to FDA-approved contraception. Free means no co-pays and no deductibles.
However, Obamacare was strongly opposed by some — namely business owners who felt that purchasing health insurance plans that covered birth control or Plan B for their employees violated their religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby objected to covering any type of morning after pill because, in their opinion, it was equal to having an abortion, though they didn’t refuse to cover other methods of birth control. Churches were exempt from the birth control mandate, while religious nonprofit organizations had to inform their insurance carrier of their objection to contraceptives, placing the burden of coverage on the insurance company and women who want birth control. Plans purchased prior to March 23, 2010 and short-term health plans are also not required to provide free birth control.
Despite the opposition and exemptions, Obamacare has helped many women prevent unwanted pregnancies. Take a look at these statistics:
- Out-of-pocket spending on the pill decreased nearly 50%, saving women an estimated $1.4 billion per year on birth control medication
- For the first time since 1975, the number of abortions in the United States dropped under one million (958,700 in 2013 and 926,200 in 2014)
- Unintended pregnancies in the United States dropped from 51% of all pregnancies between 2006 to 2010 to 45% between 2009 and 2013
Aside from having access to free birth control, under Obamacare women were able to get free mammograms, pap smears, HPV testing, HIV screening, domestic violence counseling, breastfeeding support, and counseling for sexually transmitted infections.
All in all, the state of birth control in the US is looking up from previous years. We have a long way to go to make sure all women have access to birth control but Obamacare made a difference in the lives and health of millions of women. Discontinuing free access to birth control would strip women of these life-saving benefits, cause abortion rates to skyrocket, and cause more women to fall below the poverty line in attempts to care for their families.
The Argument Against Free Contraception
For every person who believes that contraception should be free, there seems to be another who is strongly against it. One of the main arguments against the free birth control mandate is that it doesn’t make economical sense. John Cochrane, in his Wall Street Journal article, argues that paying for birth control with insurance is a bad idea because it will raise the cost for whoever does end up paying for it. He says we shouldn't use insurance for regular expenses — car insurance doesn't cover gasoline, health insurance shouldn't cover toothpaste or birth control. If it did, those markets would become less competitive, and the cost of those products would rise. He goes on to say, "The minute pills are 'free,' under insurance, the incentive for drug companies to come up with cheaper versions vanishes. So does their incentive to develop safer, more convenient, male-centered or non-prescription birth control."
The only rebuttal that makes sense to me is that women’s reproductive health shouldn’t be treated as a commodity. Just as we should have the right to choose when and if we have children, we should also have easy and free access to the tools that make that possible.
Another reason people are opposed to the requirement to provide free birth control is that it strips them of their religious liberty. If someone has a moral objection to morning after pills or contraception in general, why should they be forced to abandon their religious beliefs? My answer to that is that religion has no place in my uterus. Obama seems to agree. On October 5, 2012, President Obama addressed a university in Fairfax on this very topic and said, "I think there is one person who gets to make decisions about your health care, that's you.”
Birth Control Puts Women in Control of their Futures
More women than ever are opting out of motherhood, with the number doubling since 1970. On Mic.com, Elizabeth Plank goes into detail about how this choice makes sense — the workplace is still not set up in a way that supports women having both a career and children. Add this to the fact that women are still making less than men (though they are more likely to have a college degree) and the financial commitment children require and it’s not at all surprising why women are making this choice.
Regardless of whether a woman wants to have children or not, access to free birth control allows her to plan her family on her terms. She can go to school, get a degree, and start her career before taking on the responsibility of raising a child.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “unintended pregnancy rates are highest among poor and low-income women, women aged 18–24, cohabiting women and minority women. Rates tend to be lowest among higher-income women, white women, college graduates and married women. For example, in 2011, the rate of unintended pregnancy among higher-income white women was less than half the national rate (18 vs. 45 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15–44).” Here are some further statistics that support this:
- The rate of unintended pregnancy among poor women (those with incomes below the federal poverty level) was 112 per 1,000 in 2011, more than five times the rate among women with incomes of at least 200% of the federal poverty level (20 per 1,000).
- At 79 per 1,000, the unintended pregnancy rate for black women in 2011 was more than double that of non-Hispanic white women (33 per 1,000).
- Women without a high school degree had the highest unintended pregnancy rate among all educational levels in 2011 (73 per 1,000), and rates were lower for women with more years of education.
Providing free birth control is the answer to dealing with these demographic disparities and gives all women the ability to effectively invest in their futures without the disruption of an unintended pregnancy.
Contraception Saves the Government Money
For those that are concerned about the cost of providing free birth control, here’s some truth for you. Before Obamacare, women were paying $25 a month, at a minimum, for the pill. An IUD, which is more effective and lasts longer, could cost a woman upwards of $1,000. Women who can’t afford birth control are still having sex (obviously) and not just for the purpose of procreation (again, obviously). The Institute of Medicine found that “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.”
Free birth control saves both women and the government money.
Free Birth Control Saves Lives and Promotes Wellness
Family planning is not the only reason that women need or want to be on birth control. Hormonal birth control can help women regulate their cycles and ease symptoms of menorrhagia. Birth control can also be used to treat endometriosis, ovarian cysts, anemia, pelvic inflammatory disease, among other health conditions.
But it’s not just the health of women that are stake here. Studies have found that short periods between pregnancies can increase the risk of stillbirths, miscarriages, low birth weights, and preterm births. This can be helped by giving women access to free birth control so that they can wait longer in between pregnancies.
Saving money, saving lives, and ensuring the health of women and children are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to providing free birth control. There are many nuances within each category and beyond that speak deeply to this need. What it boils down to is that women have an inherent right to preventive care in the form of contraception. Whether Trump’s supposed rhetoric will turn into reality is still unknown. One thing I know for sure is that women need to rise up and fight for their right to have free birth control.
Photo credit: Vox.com