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Opinion

Access to Birth Control Is Not a Religious Debate

May 23, 2017

‘Coverage is a matter of economic justice’

When it comes to women’s health, our leaders in Washington are decades behind those who will be directly affected by their decisions.

In a move that should outrage anyone who wishes to retain the ability to plan whether and when to have children and to control their own reproductive health decisions, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that opens the door for his Department of Health and Human Services to gut the Affordable Care Act provision that has broadened access to copay-free birth control to more than 55 million women across the country — and for employers to determine whether or not they can refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception to their employees on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, an avowed opponent of copay-free birth control, is now in charge of the existing birth control protections under the ACA. And he recently appointed anti-abortion activists Charmaine Yoest and Teresa Manning to head up his department’s public affairs and family planning programs.

Yoest has said she regards long-acting reversible contraceptives such as IUDs as tantamount to abortion, and Manning has stated flatly, “Contraception doesn’t work.” Foxes, meet henhouse.

Here are a few indisputable facts about birth control. Ninety-nine percent of all sexually active women have used contraception at some point in their lives — including 98% of Latinas and 99% of Catholics. Numerous studies have demonstrated that access to birth control strengthens families, increases women’s earning power and narrows the gender pay gap. And concurrent with the expansion of access to affordable contraception, including via the ACA’s copay-free birth control provision, abortion rates have fallen to historic lows.

The Trump administration appears dead-set on putting all this progress at risk.

Birth control coverage is a matter of economic justice. Millions of women today simply could not afford the contraception they need if copay-free birth control coverage were taken away from them, and others would struggle to do so. According to a recent poll by PerryUndem, a third of women couldn’t afford to pay more than $10 for contraception if they needed to today. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 50 percent of women aged 18 to 34, including Latinas, said there had been a time when the cost of a prescription contraceptive prevented consistent use.

I have witnessed the impact of inconsistent use in my daily work alongside Latinas across the country. When family planning programs in Texas were decimated, I remember meeting sisters who would cut their birth control pills in half in an attempt to make them last longer. At least one faced an unintended pregnancy at a time when she and her family could barely make ends meet.

We, as a society, simply cannot afford the consequences of rolling back copay-free birth control. On an individual level, this vital benefit saves American women $1.4 billion every year. It’s no wonder 77 percent of women voters want Congress and the Trump administration to preserve it.

The reality is that when you have access to affordable birth control, you’re in control — of your career, your sex life, your body, your family, your health and your life. Now is the time to stand up, speak out, and fight — by showing up to our local town hall meetings, calling our congressional representatives and policy makers and having conversations with our family and friends to bring awareness to what is at stake.

For the 99% of us who have relied on contraception over the course of our lives, and for the 55 million women nationwide who benefit from this broadly popular and entirely common sense policy, we must keep birth control accessible and copay-free.

Jessica González-Rojas is the Executive Director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

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