GOP Threatens Birth Control in Showdown

Drugstore in California (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Drugstore in California (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Contraception coverage has been one of the most contentious issues in the debate over the Affordable Care Act. As reported by The Root, so-called Obamacare requires insurers to cover birth control as routine preventative care, thereby requiring coverage with no copay. After church groups objected on moral grounds, the White House worked to find a compromise that exempted religious employers from being bound by such requirements. But just before Oct. 1, when nationwide enrollment for the ACA was scheduled to begin, Catholic leaders encouraged conservative members of Congress to attach a measure to a pending clean resolution, or CR, being debated that would allow private employers to be exempted as well. 


The Catholics' campaign worked. The language was introduced, to the outrage and dismay of many female members of Congress. With the current shutdown, the proposed language has not had any impact, but depending on the outcome of negotiations, there is still a chance that contraception coverage could be eliminated.

A new report provides a powerful reminder of what's at stake for women and their families — particularly for women in communities of color — when it comes to the issue of contraception access and affordability. More specifically, the data makes clear that the more economic barriers to contraception, the worse for families.  


As reported in the New York Times, "economist Martha J. Bailey pulled together decades of data and research on families surrounding two major policy changes in the United States: laws banning the sale of contraceptives and their repeal, and the expansion of federal funding for local family-planning clinics during the Johnson and Nixon administrations." Her findings, published in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that children of mothers born to families with greater access to family-planning options were statistically more likely to have greater educational outcomes and finish college. The research also found that these families were likely to experience higher incomes. That's a direct link between access to contraception and economic opportunity.

In addition, according to Guttmacher, a research group for sexual health, black women have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies of any racial group, more than double that of white women. The rate of unplanned pregnancies among poor women is more than five times the rate of those of high-income levels. Research makes it clear that cost is a major deterrent to reliable contraception usage, particularly among women of limited economic means.

We also know from a New England Journal of Medicine report that "a 2004 study found that women who reported cost as a factor in their selection of contraceptive methods were more likely to choose less effective methods such as condoms over highly effective, but more costly, methods such as IUDs." A study conducted from 2007 to 2009 of low-income women in Boston concluded that "various barriers — unaffordable copays and clinic visits, the time required for clinic visits, restrictions on the number of packs of prescription contraceptives (e.g., the ring, the pill) purchased monthly and the limited time frame in which to purchase them — deterred consistent use of preferred methods."

This means that the women whose lives would most benefit from reliable forms of birth control are the ones least likely to be able to afford them, thus resulting in a vicious cycle. They struggle to be able to afford birth control, and when they can't, their families may grow beyond their financial capabilities. Then their children are likely to suffer by not being able to enjoy the same educational opportunities they might if their family's financial circumstances were different. They struggle to get to college, and if they ultimately end up remaining in the same financial circumstances as their parents, the cycle begins again. The persistence of this cycle is particularly devastating in the black community, where the median wealth of black families is substantially lower than that of white families and where college attendance and graduation rates remain low.


Which brings us back to the Affordable Care Act, and the GOP's efforts to tamper with contraception coverage. All of this data affirms that eliminating copays for contraception will have a profound impact on the affordability of family planning, and ultimately quality of life, for black women and their families. We can already see a meaningful and positive impact that the Affordable Care Act could have on the black community, which will likely be felt for years to come.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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