Guest Blogger: The High Stakes of Losing Birth Control Access
Ninety-nine-percent of women, at some point in their lifetimes, have used some form of birth control (According to the Guttmacher Center for Population Research Innovation and Dissemination). The first oral contraceptive was certified by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960, and was made widely legal for women age 17 and above without parental consent in 1974. Why, then, is there still a debate about its place as a healthcare requirement and a right for all?
In the 1970s, the birth control pill became readily available for unmarried young women, resulting in a huge leap in female economic success. This new reproductive freedom, the freedom to prevent pregnancy, saw women pursuing higher education like never before. College enrollment rates were 20% higher for those who had access to the pill at the age of 18 than for those who did not. The dropout rate of women with access to contraception was 35% lower. Women, who previously had to give up goals of higher education to have and raise children, were starting to become a significant part of the scene on college campuses. Now, data from the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that women have become the majority on college campuses, enrolling in higher numbers than men since 1979.
Women began expanding their futures into doctoral programs as well; the number of women pursuing and earning PhDs began increasing dramatically around 1970. Four times as many women enrolled in medical school between 1960 and 1980, and those in graduate business and law school programs increased 13- to 14-fold. The ability to put off having children and to focus on individual goals has seen women completing higher levels of education and becoming a presence in high-skilled labor positions. Given that higher education leads to better paying jobs and economic stability, it is clear that birth control availability is inextricably linked to the economic success of women. So it seems to defy logic that we still have to fight for insurance coverage for our birth control.
This gets even more unbelievable when you take into account that Viagra is covered by the majority of health insurance plans. A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 set precedent for protecting male sexual reproductive rights while disavowing that of females by allowing the conservative company Hobby Lobby to cover Viagra and vasectomies, but not birth control, the morning after pill, or IUDs.
This discrepancy is due to one thing and one thing only: we are still battling the notion that it is acceptable for men to have pleasure-motivated, consequence free sex, but for women it is unacceptable. As archaic as it may seem, many of our fellow citizens and unfortunately our lawmakers hold the belief that a women should not have sexual intercourse except for the purpose of procreation. Despite the overwhelming statistics that support the fact that contraception is beneficial for women’s economic futures, there will continue to be a fight against birth control to try and push women back into kitchens and nurseries.
Birth control is used for many other purposes besides contraception, including treatment of acne, endometriosis, severe menstrual cramps, and emotional mood swings. These other uses are often used to support the fight for birth control coverage. “See,” we say. “It’s not only for sex!” And while this is true, and these uses are a vitally important part of healthcare for women, we should not back down from our hard won sexual liberty.
As the battle for access to birth control rages on, we cannot afford to give an inch to those forces that would see feminine sexuality shamed back into dark corners. We cannot give up the fundamental human right to decide when and when not to become pregnant. So when someone poses the question of why birth control should be covered by insurance plans, the answer is always that women deserve the same sexual freedom that men have been privileged to possess, and we will fight for it.
Mariel is the 2017-2018 Communications Intern for the Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah. She is currently studying philosophy at the University of Utah.