Now that the Supreme Court has heard oral arguments based on two lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act provision requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their health care plans, it might be a good time to take a look back before moving forward.
As a foundation, it’s important to understand that contraception is basic preventive health care for women with strong support from the American public. It is not just a well-established standard of medical care, but is supported by long-standing federal laws and policies.
What’s more, research shows that a remarkable 99 percent of women in the United States have used some form of contraception in their lifetime, 89 percent of U.S. adults find contraception morally acceptable and more than 81 percent of the public supports publicly funded family planning for poor and low-income individuals.
That latter fact is particularly important for my organization, the Arizona Family Health Partnership, which provides family planning and preventive health care services to more than 35,000 low-income women, men and teens every year.
It’s also important to know that the companies whose lawsuits were heard, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, not only object to contraception in general, but to insurance plans covering related contraception education and counseling.
Looking at the bigger picture, contraception was included in the Affordable Care Act based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Emily Bazelon, writing for Slate.com, reported that the IOM recommendations were based on outcomes associated with getting pregnant unintentionally, finding “connections to delayed prenatal care, premature delivery, low birth weight, maternal depression and family violence.”
She also pointed out that “getting pregnant without intending to can prevent women from getting a degree or a job they aspire to” concluding that “when birth control is part of the health insurance package, as opposed to an expense women foot on their own, their health literally benefits.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The Minnesota Department of Health reports on its website that, while some unintended pregnancies result in “healthy children in happy families,” others are “associated with economic hardship, marital dissolution, poor child health and development, spouse abuse, and child abuse and neglect. Almost half of all unintended pregnancies end with an induced abortion.” That is a number all of us would like to see, at the very least, dramatically reduced and, at best, completely eliminated.
Caring for the insured, uninsured and under insured, and those in need of confidential services, has been the heart and soul of our work in Arizona for more than 40 years. Already, the ACA requirement being challenged has helped more than 27 million women access affordable contraception and other vital preventive health care.
The fact remains that contraception is good for public health and good for women and men who depend upon it. And, now that we’ve knocked down the “cost barrier” that has impacted how many women choose the best method for them, the Supreme Court should not erect another. A decision is expected in June.
• Brenda “Bré” Thomas is chief executive officer of the Arizona Family Health Partnership. For more information, visit www.arizonafamilyhealth.org.