Affordable access to birth control is a solution, not a shame
When Sandra Fluke, Georgetown Law School graduate and women’s activist, testified in February before House Democratic members that there should be a health insurance mandate to cover contraception, she was virtually skewered by conservatives, who said that others should not have to pay for her sex life (or any woman’s, for that matter). Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh jumped on the bandwagon and took it to a whole different level, calling her a slut and a prostitute who was having so much sex she couldn’t afford her own birth control pills. Fortunately, Limbaugh’s rant was not received well by several of his advertisers, which later dumped him in light of his ridiculously callous comments.
Fluke’s plea to congressional members, however, continues to be a point of contention with many conservatives. Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly (The O’Reilly Factor) brought it up again over the weekend during the pay-per-view debate The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium: Bill O’Reilly vs. Jon Stewart (The Daily Show). During O’Reilly’s opening statement, he pulled out a placard that had a picture of a birth control pill packet with the words BUY YOUR OWN. He then stated: “I left two tickets for Sandra (Fluke) plus a month’s supply of birth control at will call. Is she here tonight? No. Sandra, buy your own.” Stewart’s rebuttal was simple enough: “Birth control is now covered the same way Viagra is covered.”
The real controversy is not Fluke’s plea for women’s contraception to be covered by health insurance for their apparently promiscuous lifestyles. The actual issue at hand is the substantial reduction of abortions as well as unintended and teen pregnancies that have been proven to result from free contraception, specifically long-acting reversible contraceptives such intrauterine devices and implants.
Jeffrey F. Peipert, M.D., Ph.D., professor and vice chair of clinical research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., conducted a study called the Contraceptive CHOICE Project. From 2008 to 2010, nearly 10,000 women, ages 14-45, took part in the study and received free, long-acting, reversible contraceptives. When compared with regional and national data, researchers found that in 2008 these St. Louis women has an abortion rate that was roughly one-fourth the regional rate (4.4 versus 17.0 per 1,000 women), and one-fifth the national rate (4.4 versus 19.6 per 1,000 women). They also found that the teen birth rate among these women was lower than one-fifth the national average (6.3 versus 34.1 per 1,000 women). The numbers varied slightly in 2009 but still remained significantly lower than regional and national rates. The study population was 51 percent black, 35 percent had a high school education or less, 37 percent lived on public assistance, 39 percent had difficulty paying for basic expenses, and 63 percent had a prior unintended pregnancy.
In Ventura County, we have a problem. We rank higher in Hispanic teen birth rates in 2010 than the state’s average at 58.5 per 1,000 people compared to 45 per 1,000, according to data compiled by the Lucille Packard Foundation. (The county’s white teen birth rates are slightly lower than the state’s average at six per 1,000 compared to 10.9 per 1,000. Data for other ethnicities was not available.) The abortion rate at 11,147 abortions in Ventura County, according to the California Department of Health Care Services, ranked 38 out of 58 counties in 2010. (These statistics are for Medi-Cal abortions only, evidently the only figures California tracks.)
Conservatives who reiterate the mantra “Buy your own” seem to ignore a couple of very strong points, including preventing abortions and avoiding teens having children. The ability to avoid pregnancies protects individuals and the general public from the emotional and enormous financial burdens associated with unintended and teen births (estimated at around $11 billion for every 1 million unintended births) as well as abortions. It’s hard to believe that any true conservative would dare say: Buy your own!
By ignoring the situation or by ridiculing women for wanting birth control to be covered by insurance, we encourage the continuation of the epidemic of unwanted pregnancies and thereby continue to justify abortions. The evidence is slapping us in the face yet we seem to like shooting ourselves in the foot. As a society in need of responsible sexual intercourse and planned pregnancies, we must stand firm on what birth control provides. Tuning into reality will turn the tide of unintended teen births and abortions.