For Allure, by Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy.
Much of the recent news about birth control access is, in a word, bleak. On May 1, President Donald Trump appointed Teresa Manning, a woman who has said that contraception “doesn’t work,” to oversee Title X, the federal family planning program. On May 4, President Trump signed an executive order giving employers the ability to deny their employees insurance coverage for contraception if the employers have “religious objections.” Hours later, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which, if signed into law, would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and end its guarantee of no-copay birth control.
But lawmakers and advocates across the U.S. are also fighting to protect birth control access, and one of their strategies is gaining momentum: Many states are moving to lift restrictions on people’s ability to get and fill prescriptions for a year’s worth of contraception at time, a huge step for women’s ability to control their bodies and plan their lives. In Colorado, for example — historically an important swing state in national politics — the state legislature recently passed a bill allowing patients to do just that. When signed, it will require health insurance plans to offer insured people a three-month supply of prescription birth control for the first dispensing and 12-month supplies for subsequent dispensings.
Research shows that providing women access to a year’s worth of birth control at a time can be a game-changer for their health. A 2011 study of 84,401 women featured in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that dispensing women a one-year supply was associated with a 30 percent drop in the likelihood of conceiving an unintended pregnancy and a 46 percent drop in the likelihood of abortion compared with dispensing one-month or three-month supplies. According to research and policy organization the Guttmacher Institute, there are seven states in the U.S. where insurers are required to offer patients a year’s worth of birth control. There are an additional thirteen states where legislation to allow them to do so is pending. In three states — Washington state, Virginia, and now Colorado — this kind of legislation has passed the state legislature and has been signed by or is awaiting signature by the governor.
Research shows that providing women access to a year's worth of birth control at a time can be a game-changer for their health.
Karen Middleton is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, which has been a key supporter of the bill on its journey through the Colorado State House. She tells Allure that when it came to advocating for Colorado women to have access to twelve months of birth control at a time, it seemed strikingly clear that the normal restrictions placed on prescription medications just don’t make sense when it came to the reality of women’s lives.
“If you travel for work or are attending school or just living a busy, complicated life, you have enough challenges when it comes to taking [oral birth control pills] at the same time, every day to guarantee their efficacy — and if you have a twelve-month supply all at once, it’s just that much easier,” she says. “If you can’t get an appointment, your insurance changes, you rely on your partner’s insurance and that changes, or you rely on your parents’ insurance and that changes — all these things can prevent a woman from being able to get and take her birth control pills as needed to prevent pregnancy.”
Middleton’s heartened that this bill has garnered bipartisan support in the Colorado state legislature and chalks this up to lawmakers prioritizing health over politics. “People put partisanship aside because they thought this was a common-sense solution for women... In Colorado, we believe in the idea of giving women control of their own health care decisions and having a longer runway for accessing birth control for longer periods of time,” she says. “We know for women, their careers, their education, their family size — all the economic decisions they make are tied to the decision if and when they have a child... Access to reproductive health care shouldn’t be a political hurdle.” Thanks to the work of advocates such as Middleton, Colorado women are facing one fewer such hurdle.
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