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Contraception Is About Freedom – Just Not Religious Freedom

February 15, 2012

Last week President Obama found an elegant solution to resolve the pressure he was under to allow religiously-affiliated organizations to avoid paying for contraception.  Many people have weighed in on both sides of the issue – clearly, we are on the side thanking President Obama for his strong stance supporting women’s health.  While I strongly disagree with her framing of the issue as one about religious freedom, I wholeheartedly agree with Sally Blount’s point that we are skirting what is really at stake here: Sex and the ability to control the outcome of sexual activity. 

The true issue here is about the basic human right for women to able to plan and control if, when, and how many children to parent, and to make those decisions without having to abstain from sex.  That’s what contraception enables women to do.  Contraception is as much about my autonomy as a woman as abortion is, and that’s why it’s such a hot-button issue.  It almost doesn’t matter that 99% of sexually active American women have used birth control.  You may not be able to get any more mainstream than that – but as long as it’s about women’s autonomy, it will be controversial.

It’s also about public health.  Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and unintended pregnancies cost money.  Every dollar spent on voluntary family planning (contraceptive care) saves nearly $4 in the same budget year, and that figure only factors in the costs of prenatal care, labor and delivery, and one year of well-baby care.  (If you want sources for this information, check out the Guttmacher Institute.)  Women on Medicaid don’t have to share in the costs of their contraceptives, and one of the main reasons we as advocates have been able to preserve that benefit in tight budget times is precisely because contraceptive care is so cost-effective – it’s a bargain for public health.  Women who are fortunate enough to be insured without the safety net still struggle to share in the costs of their birth control. 

Being sexually active and being able to control if, when, and how many children to parent is a basic human right.  Women deserve this.

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