Supreme Court Ruling May Deny 126,000 Women Access to Birth Control
In recent decades, women have made tremendous strides in the workplace and the public sphere. Once confined to the home, they have broken down entrenched patriarchal barriers, now pursuing higher education, leadership roles, and traditionally “male” careers. Much of this progress has been due to a revolutionary technological advancement: birth control.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 64.9% of American women between the ages of 15 and 49 use contraception. With access to affordable preventative care, women can delay having children, allowing them to invest in higher education, pursue careers outside of the home, and secure their economic independence. However, a recent Supreme Court ruling puts women’s access to contraceptives in jeopardy.
Last month, the United States Supreme Court upheld a controversial policy issued by the Trump Administration that may deny women contraceptive coverage. The 2018 policy allows more employers to opt out of the provision in the Affordable Care Act that mandates coverage of birth control pills, rings, and intrauterine devices at no additional cost. Now, any employer can deny their employees contraceptive coverage on religious or moral grounds.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 126,000 women could lose their contraceptive coverage as a result of the SCOTUS ruling. This would require each affected woman to pay an average of $584 annually for birth control.
That cost barrier may make contraceptives inaccessible for many women, especially those living in poverty. It may also disproportionately affect Black and Latina women: 40% of Black women and 30% of Latina women say that they cannot afford to pay $10 for birth control.
By denying low-income women access to affordable preventative care, the ruling will likely exacerbate existing disparities and contribute to the cycle of poverty in the United States. A report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that access to contraceptives is a crucial determinant in women’s success and participation in the workforce. The report found that women who have access to birth control at an early age make 11% more annually by the time they’re 40 than women who do not have access to preventative care. The report also noted that contraceptive access was responsible for a considerable increase in college, graduate school, and labor force participation.
On the contrary, a 2011 study found that women who have their first child immediately after graduating high school earn an average of 30 fewer college credits than those who wait seven or more years to have children. Because college education can significantly impact earning potential, birth control is key to combating poverty and economic disparity in the United States.
It is also important to note that many women use contraceptives for reasons other than pregnancy prevention. Birth control pills, rings, and intrauterine devices can help regulate periods, treat acne, relieve endometriosis symptoms, treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and lower the risk of some cancers. 14% of pill users say that they take the pill for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. This fact has led many people to condemn the recent SCOTUS ruling, arguing that birth control should be treated as any other form of healthcare given that it has a wide range of purposes beyond pregnancy prevention.
As the issue of healthcare continues to be debated on the national stage, contraceptive coverage will likely become a hot topic in the coming months. The question at the root of the controversy remains: Does preventative care fall under the realm of healthcare? And if so, should all women have access to birth control at no additional cost?