Since the 2010 election, more than 916 pieces of legislation have been passed restricting abortion access in one of the largest and most unprecedented assaults on Roe v. Wade in history. This exploiting of state loopholes, coupled with the two efforts at defunding Planned Parenthood, the successful efforts at defunding less renowned family planning clinics, and the cutting of numerous family social programs like Head Start and WIC, has created a hostile environment not only to those who seek to prevent unplanned pregnancies, but further demolishing services for family and children programs. To say that it has been a grim time for reproductive justice is a severe understatement, downplaying the most radical changes in social policy in years.
But of course it doesn’t end there. Birth control seems to be the next target, another attempt in slimming down access for those who rely on contraceptives for family planning or other medical reasons. No more then a month ago did the Obama administration add contraceptives (including the morning-after pill) as a mandated necessity, requiring no co-pay or deductibles as a new measure in all private insurance services. It was a phenomenal achievement for millions and a measure that could possibly lead the way to subsidized birth control for those without insurance.
They’ve called it preventative medicine. Preventative medicine…Well if you apply that preventative medicine universally, what you end up with is you’ve prevented a generation. Preventing babies from being born is not medicine. Rep Steve King, R-Iowa
Of course, opposition to this measure has come out in full force, with claims that range from creating a nation of free-for all, sex-having heathens, to claiming that birth control actually causes abortions, to then claiming the exact opposite and calling it the beginning of a dying civilization. Birth control, while touted as a symbolic downfall by super-conservatives and the ultra-religious, existed as a normalcy outside of extremist thinking, rarely making its way into general politicking as a point of debate. Yet the recent attacks from Republican candidates, as well as their favorite lobbying partners like the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity and the ill-named Edmund Burke Institute, have taken to calling it nothing more then an affront to God and humanity, prophesizing on the imminent downfall into government-sponsored manis and pedis and industrialized abortion factories. Instead of concentrating on more urgent matters like the continuing and often invisible unemployment situation in America, as well as the continuing rise of the top 1% of the country, while the rest of the population falls further downward in a cycle, conservative politicians and their backers are using birth control to polarize what used to be a private decision by turning it into a crime against American society.
Most of these morality-based arguments have been quickly sidelined, predominantly by statistics indicating that more than three-quarters of Americans support full coverage for birth control in private health plans, but also believe that there should be government subsidized efforts at creating free birth control, as well as government subsidies for family planning services (including HPV testing and treatment, HIV and STD counseling, yearly wellness visits, lactation counseling, and screening and services for those affected by domestic violence) and low-income clinics providing similar services. Clinics would exclude abortion, based on the guidelines of the Hyde Amendment, but provide emergency contraception. And if you were wondering if everyone had happened to change their opinion, much like the sway of opinions during the health care wars of 2008, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a poll in August stating that the same three-quarters of Americans still supported this measure. One has to ask, how could they not? The most recent study on contraceptive services released from the Guttmacher Institute said:
…There were 66 million U.S. women of reproductive age (13–44) in 2008. More than half of these women (36 million) were in need of contraceptive services and supplies; that is, they were sexually active and able to become pregnant, but were not pregnant and did not wish to become pregnant. The number of women in need of contraceptive services and supplies increased 6% between 2000 and 2008. The typical American woman, who wants two children, spends about five years pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant, and three decades—more than three-quarters of her reproductive life—trying to avoid pregnancy. About half of all pregnancies in the United States each year—more than three million—are unintended. By age 45, more than half of all American women will have experienced an unintended pregnancy, and three in 10 will have had an abortion.
Of the 36 million women in need of contraceptive care in 2008, 17.4 million were in need of publicly funded services and supplies because they either had an income below 250% of the federal poverty level or were younger than 20. The number of women in need of publicly funded services increased by more than one million (6%) between 2000 and 2008.Among the 17.4 million women in need of publicly funded contraceptive care, 71% (12.4 million) were poor or low-income adults, and 29% (5 million) were younger than 20. Four in 10 poor women of reproductive age have no insurance coverage whatsoever.
“Buying insurance doesn’t give someone the right to veto other peoples’ health care decisions. You may disagree with a host of health care-related decisions that other people make, such as smoking or diet or riding a motorcycle, but our right to disagree is not a right to interfere,” said Dam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute, in a conference last Thursday defending the decision, a pointed finger specifically at those who felt their “conscience” was being devalued by he health insurance industries agreement to provide free birth control. Tracy Clark-Fory at Salon.com noted that this conscience defense was really, nothing more then the hot air leftover from morality arguments that don’t stick with the majority of people supporting the new measure. Of course, this doesn’t come without some strings attached. The Health and Human Services Department is adding an amendment allowing religious institutions the ability to choose whether or not contraception will be available within their plans, an amendment that, while completely unnecessary, still doesn’t please ultra conservatives.
Political rhetoric aside, there are drawbacks to this new access to birth control. While it is a step in the right direction, we are still forgetting that 12.9 million women are uninsured. 25% of those women are living below the poverty line and more often than not with children. Yearly, there are 800,000 uninsured pregnant women, and of the 4.1 million births in the United States in 2005, more than 750,000 were to women who were uninsured. Unfortunately for now, we have to accept what the administration has given us, considering it is one of few positive gains made in a political environment hellbent on rendering women without the means to take care of themselves. “Currently, nearly one in three women finds it difficult to pay for birth control, and that’s why the United States has a far higher unintended pregnancy rate than other industrialized countries.These politicians are so out of touch with our country’s mainstream values that they will try to derail the promise of no-cost birth control, and we will fight them every step of the way,” said Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
But we also have to demand even more that birth control needs to be available for all, not just those who have health insurance. 12.9 million is a startlingly high number, not only due to the amount per se, but to other influencing factors like the U.S.’s infant mortality rate, the consequences of what happens when access is taken away, and the continuing of making a nameless, faceless whole without basic of access to reproductive healthcare. If we eliminated cost on publicly funded contraceptives, 9 million women could receive their birth control for free, possibly allowing more then the said 9 million to access birth control. We create a safety net that includes all and according to the Guttmacher Institute, we avoid 1.94 million pregnancies and further complications a year.
The data alone speaks for itself, as does the opinion of the American public. But data and mass opinion won’t win the fight against those who manipulate the often worst aspects of human nature. We have to demand access- for all, if we want to look at this as a real victory.
To find out more on the Guttmacher Institute’s most recent statistics, please check out the August 2011 Facts on Publicly Funded Contraceptive Services in the United States.