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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Affordable Care Act demonstrates an affirmative, proactive step from government for women’s access to reproductive health care, but conservatives are bent on moving backwards.

Contraception should be understood as a fundamental right of American women and a necessary foundation of human security. If that seems controversial, consider this: 99 percent of American women approve of birth control and the vast majority use it over many years of their lives. These women deserve and must continue to demand insurance coverage for the method of their choice, without qualification. That’s why the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is so important and potentially transformative. For the first time ever, all health insurance plans, whether paid for privately or with public subsidies, are required to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives at no additional cost.

Family planning is essential to securing the health and rights of women, but it is also the foundation of sound economic and social policy. Tragically, however, U.S. subsidized family planning programs currently serve just over half of those in need.

The stakes are especially high for poor women, who cannot afford the high costs of the most reliable and desirable methods and experience much higher rates of early and unwanted pregnancy as a result. Single women in poverty head a growing percentage of U.S. households. In “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: Expanding Access to Family Planning,” a new white paper released today by the Roosevelt Institute, we argue that addressing their needs, and opening up opportunities to them and their children, will require multiple policy interventions, but none can work if women are denied the right and the agency to make, and act on, well-informed decisions about their own bodies.

Decades of social science research demonstrate that access to reliable and affordable family planning methods promotes responsible decision making and reduces unwanted pregnancy and abortion. It allows women to pursue educational and employment opportunities that strengthen their families and their communities. A majority of women who participated in a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, for example, report that birth control enables them to support themselves financially, complete their education, and get or keep a job. Other recent studies also show that providing family planning services at no cost results in more effective contraceptive use, decreased rates of unintended pregnancy, and dramatic declines in abortion rates.

Many American conservatives, however, reject these claims. They blame single mothers for America’s rising tide of poverty and inequality, not the other way around. They insist that access to sexual and reproductive health information and services exacerbates social problems by promoting promiscuity and unintended pregnancy, when in fact, the exact opposite is true. They promote abstinence-education and marriage promotion programs that have been tried before and been discredited, because they simply do not work.

This conflict was front and center last week as the U.S. Supreme Court heard 90 riveting minutes of argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, a pair of cases brought by two privately held corporations owned by Christian conservatives. The owners claim that the ACA violates the religious freedom of employers forced to cover the costs of contraception. Much of the testimony turned on technical questions of whether corporations, as opposed to the individuals who own them, legitimately have rights to assert in this instance, and whether they may impose those rights on employees who don’t share their views. There were also important matters of scientific integrity at stake, with the plaintiffs claiming that Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) and morning-after pills constitute methods of abortion, despite overwhelming medical agreement and numerous reputable scientific studies showing that, like everyday birth control pills, they only act to prevent conception.

All but lost in the court’s conversation were larger concerns about the health and well-being of women and families – and of our society as a whole. The Supreme Court hearing comes in the wake of more than three years of persistent attacks by extreme conservative lawmakers who have already decimated publicly subsidized services in states across the country and left many low-income women without access to basic family planning and to other critical reproductive and maternal health care services.

As legal scholar and policy analyst Dorothy Roberts observed, “When access to health care is denied, it’s the most marginalized women in this country and around the world who suffer the most—women of color, poor and low-wage workers, lesbian and trans women, women with disabilities… And this case has far-reaching consequences for their equal rights. Birth control is good health care, period.”

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  • Paul Bass

    But it will be the end of the world if women get contraceptives!

    Oh no, they and their children might be healthier, richer, and better educated! Oh the horror, the horror….

    • Sand_Cat

      The most important horror is that they will likely be less subject to control.

    • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

      Paul, the Conservatives have been saying that since 1965.

      • Paul Bass

        Obviously I was being snarky!

        I’ve been a single parent for the last 14 years, I know the value of contraceptives, even though never pregnant. 🙂

  • latebloomingrandma

    A few years ago I read a book by a historian that dealt with the country around the early to mid 1800’s. One of the new things I earned was about the “snake oil ” salesmen that traveled around the west. It was discovered that one of their potions that cured all ills, was also an effective abortifacient, probably found out by accident. Well, that news spread rather quickly among the prairie women. It was estimated that around 1850, probably 20% of pregnancies ended in abortion in this way.
    I’m sure men don’t think of this—from the time of a woman’s onset of menses around age 13 to menopause around age 55, a woman is vulnerable month after month to pregnancy, Almost half a century. It is not crazy for a female to want to have some control over this process. And human nature and numerous psychological and social forces don’t make it reasonable for all people to remain celibate except when ready to procreate. Yes, it’s time to move out of the 19th century Victorian age.

  • James Bowen

    There are few things more important in preserving our quality of life for future generations than ensuring people have access to family planning and contraception.

  • jointerjohn

    Today’s American conservatives see power as a finite commodity. They think there is only so much to go around and if they share it with women, minorities, gays and immigrants, there will be less for them. American progressives see the exact opposite, that empowering more people increases their productivity and independence, making life easier on all of us. Conservatives prefer to keep others down and then blame them for their weakness. Without someone to look down upon, their own measure of personal success shrivels up like a spider on a hot stove.

  • Allan Richardson

    Access to contraception is also vital for the health of the PLANET, or at least for the species that is most overpopulated: Homo sapiens.

    • Anne

      Really. It’s not as if there weren’t too many people around already.