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Birth Control is Essential to a Woman’s Economic Security, Yet Barriers Persist for Non-White, Low Income Women

First Posted: Jan 06, 2015 05:00 AM EST
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Birth control, the means by which one uses contraception and fertility control to prevent pregnancy and manage family planning, is essential to a woman's economic security.

That said, language, cultural, institutional and payment barriers can act as a challenge, perpetuating a belief that one lacks ownership over one's own wealth and body. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently released a statement that urged elected officials to understand the fundamental part that birth control plays in a woman's economic security. The pill, in particular, has been transformative in the lives of women for the last number of decades, and it's a top economic driver for women of child-bearing age.

The birth control pill has resulted in one-third of the wage gains women have experienced since the 1960s, according to a 2012 University of Michigan study. The same study also found, if it wasn't for the prevalence of birth control access, the decrease in wage gaps for 25- to 49-year-olds between men and women "would have been 10 percent smaller in the 1980s and 30 percent smaller in the 1990s."     

"One of the very important reasons the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argue for better access to birth control is because when women have access to birth control, they have access to opportunity -- they are more likely to go to college, participate in the workforce, and have an increased earning potential," said Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

"This should serve as an important reminder to policy makers in Washington and across the country that they can't have a conversation about creating economic success for women without talking about access to affordable birth control. If policy makers are serious about helping families across America succeed economically, they have to support comprehensive access to affordable birth control."

The Guttmacher Institute published a study in 2012, "The Social and Economic Benefits of Women's Ability to Determine Whether and When to Have Children," which found that the ability to postpone ones' first pregnancy means young women under the age of 21 are likelier to graduate from college in significantly higher numbers. That's compared to the number of women who came of age before the pill was made legal. Authors of the study also found women who gain earlier access to the pill seek higher education and have children; thus, the average child is more likely to have a college-educated mother. The same study also said 56 percent of women surveyed said birth control helps them support themselves financially.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, modern contraception is one of 10 greatest health achievements of the 20th century. It has improved health and well-being, reduced global maternal mortality, female engagement in the work force, health benefits of pregnancy spacing for maternal and child health, and economic self-sufficiency for women. Additionally, the non-contraceptive benefits also include decreased bleeding and menstrual pains, and reduced risk of gynecologic disorders, including a decreased risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer.

Nonetheless, politicians continue to look to restrict women's access to affordable contraception, affecting the economic stability of lower income women and women of color.

Nearly all women in the U.S. use some form of contraception at some point during their reproductive lives, and, in fact, 87.5 percent report use of a highly effective reversible method. However, use depends on access to health care, access to Planned Parenthood and other health care facilities that offer accessible contraceptive care, and proximity to outlets to purchase or receive contraception. And there happens to be huge disparities when it comes to women of color, particularly Latinas, attempting to access health care.

Forty-nine percent of pregnancies are unintended; contraception not only grants a woman the right to decide if she wants children, wants to space them out, or have them back to back. Also, contraceptive choice means women won't opt to carry unplanned pregnancies to term and put their child up for adoption. Additionally, it would alleviate the need for abortions, particularly important for families that struggle with medical, ethical, social, legal and financial qualms with abortion. The best way to cut abortion rates is to prevent unplanned pregnancy by improving access to reliable, operative and reasonably priced contraception. Unintended births also present $12.5 billion in government expenditures in 2008, proving that birth control could even benefit the nation.  

The Affordable Care Act could allow women to have inexpensive and unconstrained access to all U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, as the law requires that new and revised private health insurance plans cover all U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives without cost sharing, including nonequivalent options from within one method category. Some other things that may need to take place include nationwide Medicaid expansion; Medicaid family planning services; comprehensive sexuality education; over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives; confidential, comprehensive contraceptive care and access to contraceptive methods for adolescents; improved access to postpartum sterilization; and reimbursement for long-acting reversible contraception, all of which would reduce health inequities in unintended pregnancy and access to contraception.

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