Legislation good step for women’s health

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced that universities and hospitals, regardless of religious affiliation, cannot deny full birth control coverage to their female employees. Most employers have until Aug. 1 to come under compliance; nonprofits with religious affiliations have an additional year. Under the Affordable Care Act, passed last year, health insurance plans will cover birth control without a co-pay. As current students and future employees, we at Student Life commend the Obama administration for taking an important step in widening access to affordable birth control for all women, no matter where they are employed.

Last year, USA Today reported on a Guttmacher Institute study that found “at least four in ten pregnancies in every state were unwanted or mistimed.” With unwanted or “mistimed” pregnancy come both personal difficulties and larger social problems. While abstinence may be 100 percent effective, it is unrealistic to assume that celibacy or childrearing are the only viable lifestyle options. Slowing the rate of unwanted children would take pressure off of the state as well as individuals. The focus should be on non-judgmental, preventative measures. Moral conviction is admirable. However, women should not have to choose between safe sex and the possibility of unwanted pregnancy based on where they work. Providing an exception for religiously affiliated organizations would adversely affect millions of women.

The current plan follows recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government. According to a 2010 Hart research poll, 71 percent of voting Americans support insurance plans covering no-cost birth control, hardly a minority. This statistic included 77 percent of voting Catholic women, a demographic that would have been affected by an exception for religiously affiliated schools and hospitals. Individuals may choose to use birth control or not; it is a highly private decision and should remain as such. Though some politicians, such as presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, argue the new rule is “an attack on Christianity,” it is in fact nothing of the sort. The goal is to provide for millions of women who would otherwise have to choose between access to birth control and other necessities. It’s a program to protect women’s health, pure and simple. Furthermore, the new rule provides that churches and other places of worship still have the power to opt out based on moral objection.

Personal responsibility, coupled with options, is a winning combination. No-cost birth control, without exception, is one of the most proactive possible ways to prevent unwanted or ill-timed pregnancy. Here at Wash. U., we are fortunate to have access to oral contraceptives, as well as emergency contraception in the form of Plan B, through Student Health Services. No matter what your personal convictions, wide access to free birth control above all encourages health and personal wellness. We hope this commitment to women’s health continues, for the benefit of women and men alike.

  • giskard

    While I understand the intent, one statement here deserves clarification. In the second paragraph it says “However, women should not have to choose between safe sex and the possibility of unwanted pregnancy based on where they work.” This is a little misleading since it implies oral contraceptives are a form of safe sex, which they are not. While they do reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, they in no way protect against sexually-transmitted infections.