Polarization Over the Pill

Mar 26th, 2014 | By | Category: Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Suzanne York, www.howmany.org

[photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org]

Yes, it is the 21st century, and hard as it is to believe, many people in the United States are opposed to health insurance plans covering birth control. How can someone be against contraception and empowering women to make the best choices for their own health and lives?

The Supreme Court has just begun hearing oral arguments in two cases that are challenging the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee, also called the “contraception mandate.” Under the mandate, all employers – with the exception of religious organizations – must cover contraception in insurance plans. Some see this as an attack on religious freedom of for-profit companies.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the two companies involved in this case, object to the full range of birth control drugs offered under the ACA, as some of the methods could be used for abortion (emergency contraception).

It is a bit shocking that in the year 2014, the very fact of including a variety of birth control methods in a health care plan – it is, after all, preventative care – is controversial. This is basic health care. The hypocrisy of covering a drug such as Viagra has been pointed out numerous times, and apparently that’s not an issue for contraceptive deniers.  Yet birth control is a major advance in women’s health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named it one of the top ten public health achievements of the past century.

A recent poll found that more than two-thirds of U.S. women voters oppose allowing corporations to refuse to cover contraception in their health plans because of religious objections.

Then there is this type of thinking, in an opinion piece on FoxNews.com:

In the Hobby Lobby case, religious freedom – our first and oldest liberty – is being “balanced” against a “right” created, historically speaking, mere moments ago, a “right” to free contraceptives. Can people not go to the drug store and purchase those drugs or products themselves?


[image credit: www.diabetesmine.com]

A few facts on birth control (thanks to Ultra Violet for its research and infographic):

  • 99% of women ages 15-44 have used birth control;
  • 70% of Americans believe insurance companies should cover the full cost of birth control;
  • 60% of women use the pill for a reason other than preventing pregnancy, such as for ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis;
  • over 27 million women use the free birth control (no co-pay) benefit in the ACA;
  • over 1 in 3 women have struggled to afford prescription birth control at some point in their lives.

Too many people seem to assume that access to birth control is easy, but that is not true, especially for low-income people.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost 13 million women aged 15-44, accounting for one in five women of reproductive age, were uninsured in 2012.  And almost four out of every ten reproductive-age women living below the poverty line lacked insurance coverage.

The ACA is meant to help people get health insurance.  In late 2013, another study by the Guttmacher Institute found that the share of privately insured women who had no co-pay for oral contraceptive pills rose from 15 percent to 40 percent after the ACA’s birth control benefit went into effect in January 2013.


Watch a Guttmacher video entitled “Publicly Supported Family Planning Services Are Essential”


Corporations already have rights of personhood and thanks to Citizens United, now have free speech rights; should they be granted religious rights as well, to the possible detriment of U.S. citizens?

And the question begs, if the Court rules in favor of the corporations, what’s next that could be found offensive on religious grounds?

Employers big and small should not have the right to deny their employees insurance coverage for contraception.  In the words of Dr. Tania Basu, an OB-GYN, “affordable family planning services are essential to building healthy families and communities.”  That should be the priority – because the rights of millions of American women are at stake.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.

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