The Concept of Contraception: Is It Equal Access?

Despite being one of the most natural human acts, sex is anything but natural when it comes to contraceptives. Currently, the political climate surrounding contraceptives is strained — there remains no constant flow of dialogue surrounding their usage in popular media. Accompanied by the Trump Administration’s differing opinions as opposed to those from the Obama era, many women are left feeling vulnerable to new changes concerning their reproductive health. The adverse effects of a lack of recognition of the benefits of contraceptives leave many — especially young adults — exposed to unexpected pregnancies and disease. In order to take a step towards a more equitable America, contraceptives should not be considered a privilege for some but a basic provision for all.

Politics of Reproductive Rights in America

Although the restrictions being imposed on reproductive rights are incredibly demoralizing in 2018, U.S. reproductive health policies have come a long way. The United States has steadily built upon existing precedent on regulations concerning abortions and has advanced women’s reproductive rights through cases like Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, among others. However, in the last decades of the 20th century, the United States oversaw major slashes in funding for social programs targeted towards low-income mothers, and enacted rulings that dramatically reduced women’s access to reproductive health care. These changes were further amplified by the emerging anti-abortion movement across the nation.

However, the Affordable Care Act represented a step in the right direction, by allowing women affordable contraceptive access and mandating that all employers include contraceptives in their preventive health services for women. This meant that they would require zero-payment for services and the costs would not add to deductibles. However, since coming to power, the Trump Administration has rolled back many previous reproductive protections in addition to placing further restrictions on contraceptives.

In the age of Trump, not only is the current atmosphere surrounding contraceptives overtly biased against women, but it disproportionately affects women of color and of low socioeconomic status. This new agenda adopted by the Trump Administration is evident in his appointees to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, led by a triad of pro-abstinence supporters. One of the most prominent appointees is Victoria Huber, the chief of staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, who was instrumental in effectively ending a federal program to prevent teen pregnancy. Before its dismantling, this program enjoyed the bipartisan support of Congress and had supported over 3000 community-based organizations since its inception in 2010.

Just last year, Trump moved to expand employer rights, which would allow companies to deny women insurance coverage for contraception on the grounds of religious beliefs. According to a New York Times article, “more than 55 million women have access to birth control without co-payments because of the contraceptive coverage mandate. Under the new regulations, hundreds of thousands of women could lose those benefits.” Statistics like these show the gravity of these new rollbacks and the detrimental impact they can have on American women.  

Not a New Issue

Other factors such as a person’s religious beliefs, geographic area, and socioeconomic status also play a role in impacting women’s access to birth control. In an interview with the HPR, Erin Gloria Ryan, a Los Angeles freelance writer and a contributing editor to the Daily Beast said, “Your boss for whatever reason, such as if they don’t want to pay for the added cost of birth control, they can simply stop covering it on the basis of religious grounds. Unfortunately, there’s not very much you can do as a female employee.”  Ryan further noted that there is a definite “double standard” in the workplace where employers see fit to meet the costs of Viagra for men but are resistant to covering contraceptives for women.

   Newly imposed limitations on accessibility to contraceptives may typically be something unheard of to a subset of those who are affluent and generally white, however to those of color and from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, these rollbacks from the Trump Administration are only another set of barriers in a long fight for accessibility to contraceptives. When considering the systematic oppression of people of color, contraceptives are not the most politically prioritized. In a world where minorities are constantly having to place other necessities — such as affordable housing, and providing for their family — access to contraception is often overlooked.

Contraception for All?

This discord of prioritization can be seen as a common issue within the black American community, where Harvard’s Dean of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay, has conducted research. Gay said in an interview with the HPR, “my guess is that for lots of Americans, men, and women, and of different racial groups — access to contraceptives may not be high on the list of policy priorities relative to other issues.” She suspects that, while there is variation across the population, contraception access is a concern of luxury. Many socioeconomically disadvantaged communities of women face barriers in terms of prioritizing contraceptives when they need to focus on expenses such as receiving a quality education, affordable housing, and everyday living costs. Gay has conducted extensive research on American political behavior, public opinion, and minority politics, and in her opinion, “for segments of society that already have a hard time getting access to contraceptives, it may be even more difficult now.”In essence, coming from a community with a history of being systematically oppressed directly impacts one’s access to reproductive products, in terms of who is able to receive and continue receiving contraceptives.

Looking at how race affects contraceptive usage, and implicitly it’s affordability to that population, the Guttmacher Institute released data concerning the utilization of contraceptives in America. It was found that “Eighty-three percent of black women at risk of unintended pregnancy are currently using a contraceptive method, compared with 91 percent of their Hispanic and white peers, and 90% of their Asian peers.” Although this seems as if it’s a high percentage, black Americans contraceptive use remains 7-8 percent lower than that of other minorities. It should be noted that these ethnic disparities exist against a historical background where black women have been victimized by forced sterilization, eugenics, questionable field trials, and coerced into consuming contraceptives. This history of racism and discrimination has created a sense of distrust towards contraceptives in general and led to women of color not being able to access the type of reproductive health services that they need and deserve.

Given that being able to access contraceptives is essential to a women’s well-being, it is an issue that should extend beyond partisan divides. As Gay stated, “I think it is vitally important for women to be able to control when they have children. It’s difficult to participate equally and fully in society if you don’t have that control over your life. It is absolutely possible to both be a mother and be an accomplished professional, but to be able to do those things, you need to be able to make the decisions right for you in your life and that work in tandem with your ambitions.” Women shouldn’t be left feeling as if their bodies are up for constant debate in the highly divisive partisan battlefield.

The Age of Empowerment

In the past, there have been federal iterations of legislation that help disadvantaged communities overcome these barriers. An essential piece of legislation in family planning funding is known as Title X, established under the Nixon Administration. Unfortunately, it is now under siege by the Trump Administration who is attempting to withdraw funds granted to abortion providers under Title X. In an interview with Kinsey Hasstedt, a Senior Policy Manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told the HPR about the importance of Title X. One of its core purposes is to “help close gaps in family planning access to those who are in marginalized communities.” She states that the benefits of Title X are unparalleled as it “supports over 4000 clinics across the country that cover over four million people annually”. Therefore, it “is important that we [as a nation] try to remedy gaps in reproductive accessibility as the United States has a history of reproductive coercion.”

With the federal government making gains on restricting women’s access to abortions and contraceptives, “work done at the state and local level has never been more important,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. Contraceptives are not a luxury, therefore they should not be treated as one. Women should be able to have contraceptives be made available to them at an affordable price, but when battling with an Administration that does not push for further reproductive rights, the divide between the people and the Presidency has never been clearer.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Ceridwen~commonswiki

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