Last week the Institute of Medicine reported what most breathing humans know more or less reflexively: That contraception is a preventive health care service. Why is this even a question? And why must we answer it now?
Birth control is a safe and legal service that is both cost effective, and particularly beneficial to women’s health. It not only protects us from the social and economic burdens of unintended pregnancies, which are relatively high in the U.S. It empowers us to imagine and pursue autonomous and fulfilling lives, that include the joys of healthy parenthood if and when we’re ready for it.
Most Americans believe that contraception should be affordable and accessible, whether or not they personally use it, including most Catholics, according to numerous studies reported this year by Catholics for Choice. Ninety-nine percent of heterosexually active women have used a birth control method currently banned by the Vatican, and most continue to. Ready access should be a matter decided by women and their clinicians, certainly not by politicians.
The IOM report on gaps in coverage under health reform recommends that contraception be readily available without the added costs of co-payments and deductibles, as should screenings for cancer, HIV, diabetes, and domestic violence.
“The IOM’s nonpartisan evidence-based decision to cover contraception without additional charges is long overdue,” according to Dr. Sophia Yen, MD, an adolescent medicine physician practicing at Packard Children’s Hospital. “This will be a huge stride in preventing unintended pregnancies and thus unnecessary abortions. I’ve seen too many women change to less effective methods of birth control because of costs in these dire financial times. Affordable coverage for birth control is a critical life-line to millions of women and their families.”
The next step is asking the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt these life-saving recommendations. This should be a slam-dunk. But it may not be. The remaining gaps are not in our science but in our advocacy.
Opposition arguments to these recommendations are so flimsy that they are rarely reported in the mainstream media. They are promulgated largely by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who do not represent the practices or beliefs of their own congregations, or most people of other faiths, and whose lapses in sexual ethics are threatening the vitality of the Church.
So, why is this still a question, and why must we answer it now? The fact is that after years of bullying, attacks on women’s rights have escalated dramatically this year. Despite our most careful and strategic parrying, the words “women” and “women’s health” have become stigmatized in the fickle world of mainstream politics. It’s time to trust ourselves with decisions about our destiny. It’s time for people of conscience to raise our voices and visibility on fundamental matters of choice. Calling on HHS to accept this expert panel’s recommendations is a perfect place to start.