On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations cannot be required to provide their employees with coverage for contraception, a decision that medical groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- this country's leading group of professionals providing health care to women -- have called "profoundly" disappointing.
"This decision inappropriately allows employers to interfere in women’s health care decisions," the group said in a statement.
"Contraceptives are essential health care for women and should not be treated differently than other, equally important parts of comprehensive care for women, including well-woman visits, preconception care visits, cervical and breast cancer screenings and other needed health care services," ACOG added.
Because that's the thing about birth control. For many women across the United States, of all different religious, political and socioeconomic backgrounds, it's an absolutely essential part of how they stay healthy. From pain management and menstrual cycle regulation to straight-up family planning, here are just some of the ways that birth control has been a very, very good thing in the lives of real women.
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I started using the birth control pill when I was 17. I had a boyfriend and thought we were ready for all that stuff, but I didn't want babies. I'm from a really small town and knew education was the only way to get out, so I wanted to go to college, get my PhD, and I knew having a baby would slow that down.
My husband and I stopped using birth control in 2011 and had a baby in 2012, and now I'm back on the pill because I don't want anymore kids [laughs]. I have a lot of friends who went off birth control after having a kid and now they've got two, three, four, five kids -- and while that's okay for them, that's not what I wanted to do. One kid is plenty! I've still got time to dedicate to him, and to my career.
--Sarah, 29, Maryland
I'm a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which does not prevent access to birth control. Birth control has been important to me as a woman, because it's allowed me to focus on my career and different goals without having to worry about where children would be placed in my life. I have the option to get married when I want and have children when I want because I've had access to birth control.
I've been very lucky that the denomination that I serve has never been a part of any of this controversy in the sense that they've always left contraception decisions up to the individual and their doctor. I fully believe a religious institution should be able to make these types of decisions, but it's surprising to me that corporations are given the same rights that religious groups are. There are a lot of ways I personally cannot be involved with politics because I work for a religious institution, and I went into my job knowing that. It would seem that a corporation would have to go into being a corporation knowing they also have to remove themselves from certain issues.
--Laura, 32, Kansas
I don't take birth control to prevent myself from getting pregnant -- as a matter of fact, I don't have sex. I take it because I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. I have very irregular periods, sometimes they're very heavy and I have male-pattern facial hair growth because of that, and I take the pill for the hormones, which help regulate that. It makes my symptoms much lighter, and it makes me not have a goatee, like a man.
Before I had insurance, it was $130 a month for the pill, so it was a huge issue: Do I live with these symptoms and put up with it, or do I not make my rent this month so I can live a normal life? Now, I have health insurance through an Obamacare plan and it costs me $4 a month.
--Channing, 28, Kentucky
My mom had me when she was very young and when she and my father conceived me, they made the decision that a lot of young couples make –- to get married. That marriage was an unhappy one, and they are divorced now. My mom has since remarried and has other children, but she can never quite shake my father because of ongoing custody battles, child support, and other legal issues. She’s stuck with him for the rest of her life.
My mom gave birth to me 10 days prior to her 21st birthday. I can’t even imagine having spent my 21st birthday taking care of an infant. Instead, because I have health insurance and because my health insurance includes coverage for contraceptives, I was at the bar with my friends, wearing a pretty dress and a tiara, being a kid and doing what other college juniors do on their 21st birthday. Access to birth control would have changed everything for my mom. It’s already changed everything for me.
--Alysa, 21, Michigan
I got married when I was 18 and didn't start taking birth control until after [my husband and I] had our daughter. Even with insurance, I could barely afford it -- it was about 30 dollars a month, which was still kind of out of my price range. Then I realized I could go to Planned Parenthood where, due to my income at the time, I qualified for free birth control, which was very important to me, because I then went through a divorce and couldn't really afford to pay for birth control. I've been relying on them since then to provide me with birth control. I still don't have health insurance.
Since my relationship with my husband ended, I haven't wanted more kids. I've wanted time to focus on [my daughter] and going back to school and furthering my career. Not being worried about having another child before I'm ready has given me a chance to focus on my goals and dreams and what I want to accomplish.
--Katie, 26, Maine
I'm pregnant. My husband and I have been married for two years now, and this is when we wanted to have a kid -- not before. But I actually started on Depo [Provera, the contraceptive shot] when I was 15, partially for birth control, but really because I was having horrible, horrible periods, like extreme, excruciating, make-me-vomit-for-six-days-straight periods.
I got laid off in 2009, lost my Cobra coverage and everything, and the only way I could get the Depo was to go to Planned Parenthood. It would have cost me $180 every three months without insurance, but with the sliding scale based on income, I only ever paid up to $30. When I went off birth control and my period started coming back, it was normal. I could function, I wasn't puking -- the Depo worked miracles. I feel like people joke about women being able to get period weeks off every month, but I feel like either let me have the health care to cover birth control, or give me that paid week off, because otherwise I can't function.
--Sara, 27, New Hampshire
I am the product of a broken home -- child number five from marriage number two for my father. My mom was left with me and my older brother in a home that was foreclosed on -- she had no permanent job (she was substitute teacher) and lived 600 miles from her family. Statistically, there was a good chance that someone like me would drop out of school, dabble in drugs and never go to college, but I listened to the birth control options that were discussed in junior high and high school, and in college, I made damn sure I was covered, because in no way shape or form was I ready to be a mom. Birth control has allowed me and my husband to decide when having a child was right for us.
--Anne, 40, Oregon
I used to suffer from 7-day heavy periods with cramping, clots and misery for most of my life, but when I switched from birth control pills to an intrauterine device [IUD], that changed dramatically. I had only one to two-day light periods, and I didn't have to worry about packing enough pads and tampons, carrying a change of underwear in my purse or even stopping at the store to buy new clothes, which happened sometimes. That's a huge factor for many woman -- it isn't always just about preventing pregnancy.
--Jenny, 36, New Hampshire
I have had severe menstrual cycles since they began -- I don't know how many times I was in the ER thinking my appendix exploded or I was dying, but it would turn out to be a cyst or "cramps" from my period. Almost monthly, I'd have to take off work because I couldn't get out of bed. Doctor after doctor told me, basically, "this is just your situation as a woman, deal with it..." Some offered birth control, but I never wanted it because of the stigma and the cost.
Finally, one year after a few months of no periods I went to the doctor and found out I had endometriosis. They put me on a medication called Lupron Depo. I lost my hair, I had hot flashes every hour on the hour, I would have bad headaches, so after the first two injections, I stopped it and started getting injections of Depo Provera, but I eventually had to stop taking that because I got severe headaches.
After a few years of that, I decided I wanted a hysterectomy. My doctor refused. I received a second opinion last summer and said he said no, I was too young. The concession I made with him was that I'd get Mirena, the IUD implant. In June of last year, I had my Mirena implanted and save for some killer contractions and two weeks worth of recovery bleeding, I haven't had any problems since. I have not had a period, I have not had any major cramping, no ER visits, no false positive pregnancy scares, nothing. I don't ever want to imagine life without Mirena.
--Christy, 29, Michigan
I was on continuous birth control, so I never got my period, from age 17 to 22, until I had worsening migraines. I tried multiple pills then an IUD for endometriosis treatment -- and as a contraceptive -- and I also had surgery. Birth control greatly alleviated my symptoms -- severe pelvic pain, bowel issues, nausea as well as many others. Endometriosis is a complex disease and not every woman responds to birth control, but it helped me function normally for some years. It has also allowed me to take control of my reproductive health and have a safe sex life. I am not ready to be a mother yet. I have a lot of things I would like to accomplish and do first.
--Caitlin, 23, Boston
I am a 37-year-old, happily married mother of four wonderful children. I am currently a graduate student and have held many roles, both as a stay-at-home mom and a working mom. The decision to become a mother was never taken lightly by me or my (now ex) husband. We added each child thoughtfully, and were comfortable with me not being on birth control during my twenties, as we knew we could afford and emotionally handle whatever came of that choice.
I am so very blessed to have been given four healthy, vibrant children, and I was also blessed to have the money to pay for an IUD when it was time to move to the next phase of life. In 2010, I wound up unexpectedly divorced and am glad that as I was thrust into complete poverty (I lost the business to my husband), I had a form of birth control I could count on.
--Joli, 37, Massachusetts
I first started birth control at 22 due to very painful cysts in my breasts -- they felt like they were filled with rocks. I was skeptical due to the fact that I was not at all sexually active and surprised that my doctor prescribed the pill. But they helped tremendously. All of my cysts disappeared.
Later, after having two children, I was given the pill again to manage unpredictable and very painful periods, and again, it worked like a charm. I have used birth control for both family planning as well as other health issues, and I have benefitted from it all around.
--Jaime, 38, Idaho
I have taken the birth control pill to prevent pregnancy as well as for medical reasons. When I first became sexually active when I was 19, I thought I was doing the right thing by being responsible for controlling my own body and my own future. I was on the pill for a few years, and then after my boyfriend and I broke up I went off it. A couple of years later, I found myself in the hospital with a ruptured cyst that had blown a hole in my right ovary. I was 24 years old. My doctors at the time prescribed the pill as a cyst preventative. They basically said I would need to be on it in perpetuity. I took it for the next 15 years or so, until my late thirties. I believe that any form of birth control a woman chooses to use is also an essential part of maintaining good health and planning.
--Michele, 49, Georgia
I went to a high school where many kids didn't graduate and many girls became teen mothers; in fact, my high school was one of the first in our area to have daycare on campus. I began taking birth control at 16, and because I was able to control when I wanted to start a family, I was able to graduate high school, attend college, graduate school, and travel abroad to work on developing my career. Now that I'm in mid early-30s, I'm in a stable relationship that will lead to marriage and hopefully my first child. I know that I'm mentally, financially and emotionally mature enough to become a mother now. Becoming a mother is the most important decision a woman can make, and I'll be damned if anyone takes that liberty away from me.
--Andrea, 34, Texas
Despite my religious views as a Catholic, I am a modern woman who holds no judgments on one's sexual or marital rights, and that includes the right to contraception. Following years of horrible pain, hormonal swings and irregularity, I began using contraceptives when I was 18. Two years later I met my current boyfriend, and I continue to use contraceptives today -- not only my health and relationship, but also for my career. As a 23-year-old working woman in D.C., I [feel there is] pressure to pick one of two tracks: motherhood or the workplace. And once you choose, you wear the label forever. My employers should not decide whether I choose to plan a pregnancy or never plan one at all. My choices as a woman should not be vindicated or challenged by a CEO.
--Kayla, 23, Washington, D.C.
When I was just a young high school student, I used birth control to manage my unimaginable pain associated with my menstrual cycle, which every woman in my family has suffered from for generations. Birth control allowed me to focus on my school work without distractions or days off of school every month, and it resolved my debilitating migraines. My senior year, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare heart condition that caused random palpitations. After a successful surgery to correct this heart abnormality, my blood pressure was dangerously high, because of my birth control. Now I use an IUD to control my reproductive health and associated symptoms and to keep my heart in optimal health as well.
--Erika, 22, Washington
These answers have been edited and condensed.
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