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Birth Control Matters

Posted: 01/30/2012 11:39 am

Birth control matters to women. This is not an opinion. It is a fact. But you wouldn't know it reading political coverage of the administration's decision to do the right thing and approve the rule mandating coverage of it.

And frankly, that's shameful.

When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius first announced the final rule making clear that contraception would be covered under health reform, not a single network saw fit to cover it in its nightly news. Every single network did, however, find time to cover the President's rendition of Al Green at the Apollo.

Just about every organization that works on behalf of women's rights commented on the decision, contacted the press about the impact the decision would have on women, and spent an enormous amount of time and energy promoting the news on social networks. But it was only when Catholic bishops came out to denounce the decision that coverage of contraception began to break out beyond the perfunctory write-ups that accompany every executive action.

The fact that the outrage of a relatively small number of men warranted so much more attention than the benefits to tens of millions of women is disgraceful.

Now we see that the story has made the big time. It was leaked to Politico that birth control is getting a whole op ed in the Washington Post. No longer is this debate concerning tens of millions of women limited to the outrage of conservative male Catholics denouncing Sebelius' decision -- now it has been expanded to include the outrage of a liberal male Catholic.

According to E.J. Dionne, Obama "utterly botched" this decision. He goes on to question the political wisdom of not working harder to accommodate the religious right.

Oh, man. OK, so one important thing to know is that the rule does exempt churches and religious organizations who primarily employ people of their faith from having to comply. But let's review a few other pertinent -- to women -- facts that you won't find in his piece or any of the pieces run on this important rule.

Between 2000 and 2008, 36 MILLION women were sexually active, of child bearing age, and did not wish to become pregnant. 17.4 million of them have incomes below 250% of the federal poverty line or are under the age of 20.

What does this mean? Let's break it down another way. Technically, the poverty line in the US for a four person family is $22,350. That's $1,862.50/month. Nearly half of the women previously mentioned in the "sexually active, but not interested in having children" bucket fall below that poverty line. Having an infrastructure that forces a woman to pay up to $50/month for contraception in that budget is a huge burden on families.

What about religious women? Well, 69% of women of all religious denominations who don't want to get pregnant use birth control, including 68% of Catholic women, 73% of mainline Protestants, and 74% of Evangelicals. And birth control is a lot more than contraception for women -- 58% of us use it to manage other medical issues like endometriosis or menstrual disorders.

Today, 1 in 3 women has trouble affording birth control. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies in the industrialized world, and studies show that women who plan their pregnancies are likely to be healthier, seek prenatal care, and have healthier children.

Given all of this, shouldn't the question be why a group of mostly men -- bishops or otherwise -- need an extra-extra special exemption from prioritizing the health of women? Sadly, this is no freak occurrence. When the Obama administration made the misguided decision not to allow Plan B to be sold over the counter, the debate focused exclusively on the way he -- "as a father" -- viewed the idea of 11-year-old girls getting Plan B with their pack of gum. The overwhelming majority of young women who were simply trying to avoid pregnancy or abortion, both far more risky than Plan B, were ignored. And when a collection of almost all men pushed the "Bart Stupak amendment," holding health reform they supposedly supported hostage for the sake of inroads on their anti-choice agenda, the actual impact their amendment would have on women was virtually absent as news coverage lionized these men's dedication to their consciences.

Shouldn't we ask why women's health, our ability to control our lives and bodies and careers, is such a popular political football? Is it because the women who actually are affected have no voice in our political system?

We need to start asking women what they think about birth control getting covered by their insurance.

You can start with us. We're glad. And if you're part of the 80% of Americans who agree with us, you can sign this card letting the administration know they did the right thing: www.weareultraviolet.org