In January the Obama administration announced that, starting August 1, women will not have to pay out-of-pocket for birth control. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, this year many insurance plans will be required to fully cover contraception without co-pays or deductibles, which will save individuals hundreds of dollars every year.
This is great news for women, but most especially young women. Contraceptive pill use is highest among 18-to 24-year-olds. Last year, two-thirds of women in this age group took the pill. Saving hundreds of dollars per year for college students and young professionals can be a big deal.
However, while the Obama administration is helping women to make health care decisions based on what is best for them, the Republican candidates are heading in the opposite direction. Sending a Republican to the White House will put women’s access to birth control pills in grave jeopardy — and this prospect should be completely unacceptable to all women but especially young women, who are often the most vulnerable in the case of unwanted pregnancy.
The August expansion of access to the pill will be another major milestone in the battle to increase availability to oral contraception. The Food and Drug Administration first approved the pill in 1961, but it wasn’t until the 1965 the Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut that anyone gained access, and even then, only married women in some states could obtain the pill.
It took yet another Supreme Court ruling in 1972, in the case of Baird v. Eisenstadt, to allow unmarried women in all states to legally buy the drug. Despite this level of availability, January’s data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the U.S. still has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world.
The scary part is every single Republican candidate in the 2012 race leans so far to the right that they would turn back the clock on more than 50 years of women’s rights progress. Recently on her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow said it best: “Birth control has been legal in this country, in every state of the union, for almost half a century, since the Supreme Court said the states had no right to ban it. Half a century, your right to birth control has been the law of the land — and now comes the current Republican presidential field. It’s 2012.”
Most of the GOP candidates have backed into their position on birth control by supporting the so called “personhood movement,” which aims to make all abortions illegal — even in the case of rape and incest — by defining a fertilized eggs as a person, which in turn would ban most forms of birth control including the pill.
What is perhaps the most stunning about this stance is that not even in Mississippi, arguably one of the most conservative states in the union, could the personhood-ers get their agenda passed when it came it up for a vote in November last year. Not convinced yet of just how extreme this crop of GOP candidates are? Then consider this fact: even among Catholics, 98% of women have used contraception.
Rick Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Newt Gingrich have all signed pledges backing the Personhood movement. The GOP frontrunner, Mitt Romney, hasn’t signed the pledge yet but he told Mike Huckabee in October that he “absolutely” would have signed a constitutional amendment as governor of Massachusetts to define life as beginning at conception, thereby endorsing the personhood clause.
Rick Santorum is so extreme on the issue that, in addition to signing the personhood pledge, he has directly stated his opposition to birth control writ large: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” Santorum has also said, “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Women, and especially young women, must stand up to the Republican party on the issue of birth control or we may turn back the clock on over half a century of women’s rights.
Photo Credit: brains the head