THE BLOG

Women's Health: A Priority, Not an Afterthought

03/25/2014 11:07 am 11:07:43 | Updated May 25, 2014

Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will affect whether American women will have equal access to contraceptive coverage -- or will establish a precedent through which women's access to care can be restricted due to the personal beliefs of their employers.

In this case, for-profit companies are seeking to refuse insurance coverage of certain contraceptives to their employees, many of whom would benefit from enhanced access to this preventive care. Contraceptive coverage was established through the Affordable Care Act with good reason -- because contraceptives play an essential role in well-woman care and in effective family planning.

As an OB-GYN, I have treated thousands of women throughout my career, and have seen firsthand the profound and lasting health benefit of access to contraception -- for individual women, for their families, and for the health care system overall. That is why I urge the Supreme Court to recognize that a decision in favor of coverage is a decision in favor of science, and in favor of quality health care for women.

I respect the rights of others, including for-profit employers, to have their own opinions. But that does not mean that bosses should have a role in a woman's decisions about her reproductive health. Like all health care decisions, any decision about contraception should be based on a woman's needs and her current health.

These decisions should not reflect input from a woman's boss.

The value of family planning -- including contraception -- has been clearly demonstrated for decades. The ability to time and space children reduces fetal, infant, and maternal morbidity and mortality.

Contraception can also help families to better plan for pregnancies -- physically, mentally, and financially. This leads to more optimal health outcomes for mother, for baby, and for the entire family. Planned pregnancies lower the risk of potentially serious issues such as low birth weight, preterm birth, and small-for-gestational age. Of course, contraception prevents unintended pregnancy and, therefore, prevents abortions.

It's worth noting that today, nearly one-half of all pregnancies in America are unintended. An unintended pregnancy can worsen a preexisting health condition such as diabetes or heart disease, and women with unintended pregnancies have also been shown to experience higher levels of depression and, unfortunately, domestic abuse.

OB-GYNs recognize the value of contraception to women's health because we see it every day. But we've also seen patients who don't have access to contraception. If we allow employers to pick and choose which treatments are available to their employees, we will limit the ability of patients to get the option that is best for them.

Specifically, the employers who are fighting coverage believe that some contraceptives can lead to abortion. But the key word is "believe." The science demonstrates clearly that these contraceptives prevent pregnancy, for example, by inhibiting ovulation or blocking sperm from fertilizing the egg.

It would be a dangerous and slippery slope to set a precedent that allows bosses' personal beliefs to impact the health care provided to their employees. What will come next? Limits on coverage for vaccination? Will it expand beyond women's health and lead to limits on blood transfusions or resuscitation?

Women's health should be a priority in America, not an afterthought. Contraception plays a major role in women's health and must not be treated differently than any other preventive services.

All American women must have full access to -- and coverage of -- all FDA-approved contraceptive options. Contraceptive coverage places birth control within the financial reach of more American women, regardless of their financial situation. This is fair, and it is right. This fairness is surely one of the major reasons why a poll released recently found that a majority of Americans support employer-mandated contraceptive coverage.

Widespread coverage of contraception will bring equality to the care that a woman deserves, and millions of women, and their families, would benefit from this investment in their health.