Reality Check: Birth Control Coverage is Essential to 99% of Women
Mitt Romney’s latest attempt to portray himself as “severely conservative” has him fomenting the attack on new legislation that requires all employers, including religiously-affiliated institutions like universities and hospitals, to provide employees with health insurance coverage for contraceptives. He is certainly not alone among the Republican presidential candidates in condemning this recently-revised rule that now exempts religious employers from having to pay for this benefit, but his words (as they often do…) provide the perfect opportunity for a reality check.
Romney, speaking in a “packed gymnasium” in Colorado told the crowd that “churches and the institutions they run, such as schools and let’s say adoption agencies, hospitals, that they have to provide for their employees, free of charge, contraceptives, morning-after pills — in other words abortive pills and the like at no cost,” Mr. Romney said. “Think what that does to people in faiths without sharing those views. This is a violation of conscience.”
The use of the words “abortive pills” alone is chilling–conflating contraceptive use with abortion has been the purview of the ultra-religious right–but Romney’s assertion that this legislation will violate the conscience of most people of faith is just plain wrong. It will violate the conscience of the small minority of Americans, like Rick Santorum, who, writes Igor Volsky on the Think Progress blog, “has pledged to preach about “the dangers of contraception in this country,’ if elected president.” Santorum is basically opposed to women having sex that is not related to procreation; “It’s not okay,” he has said. “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” The data strongly suggests that this ship has long since launched.
If you want to know just how pervasive use of contraception is among women of all religions, check out the April 2011 report from the Guttmacher Institute; “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use.” It includes the following findings:
“The overwhelming majority of sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant are using a contraceptive method. Moreover, 69% are using highly effective methods: sterilization (33%), the pill or another hormonal method (31%), or the IUD (5%).”
The chart below (using Guttmacher data) comes from an aptly titled “reality check” on contraceptive usage posted on the Mother Jones blog:
In at least 26 states insurers who provide coverage for prescription drugs must also provide coverage for FDA-approved prescription contraceptives. Federal law requires that insurers provide contraceptive coverage for federal employees and their dependents (with a handful of religious exemptions). And the Institute of Medicine included contraceptives in their recommendation of essential benefits that should be covered under all health plans available on the state health insurance exchanges. Contraceptives save money by helping women avoid unintentional–and far more expensive–pregnancies; they greatly reduce the need for abortion, and in the case of birth control pills, they are used to treat painful side-effects of menstruation, acne and other medical problems unrelated to preventing pregnancy. The message from many women and their health advocates for at least 30 years is that contraceptives are an integral part of preventive health and should be covered as such.
The effect of the new federal contraceptive legislation is to provide equal access to what has long been determined an essential women’s health benefit. It makes no sense that a woman in Alabama would have to pay between $180 and $600 a year to go on birth control pills (depending on her medical coverage) while it would cost another in New York just a $20 co-pay for the initial doctor visit. Righting these kinds of disparities in essential benefits is one of the underlying goals of health care reform, especially when it comes to prevention and, ultimately, reducing costs. Once again, those claiming the mantle of conservatism are out of touch with the ever-important 99%.