Hypocrisy pervades the United States regarding women’s reproductive rights, with many politicians positing their indifference toward fundamental rights as an effort against unnecessary government interference in the private industry. An unsettling number of fervent Republicans oppose universal health care coverage of birth control — a puzzling position considering our country’s self-proclaimed status as a leader in human rights advocacy. Though Americans tend to have an inflated ego regarding our standing in reproductive rights in comparison to other countries, the reality is that we are not quite up to par. In fact, the U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world. If America wants to improve reproductive justice, we must work to ensure all forms of birth control are covered by American health insurance providers.
Among many of the hardships I had imagined I would face transitioning to college life and “adulting,” access to birth control was never one I particularly pondered. After a quick, informal visit to my OB-GYN right before the end of high school, I was prescribed a generic brand of birth control pills to be taken daily. Once I arrived at college, I quickly became aware that my birth control pills caused a multitude of rather unpleasant side effects. Immediately, I called the University Health Service to explore other possible options of birth control. I soon discovered, to my dismay, that the cheapest insurance my self-employed parents could find was under a religious exemption and did not cover birth control. To this day, I begrudgingly continue to take oral birth control pills simply due to convenience and its low out-of-pocket cost, not because they are the optimal for my situation.
The failures of our health care system construct a harsh reality for many women in situations both similar and different to mine. While I have privilege in that I can afford the relatively low out-of-pocket cost for oral birth control pills, many women in remote communities experience difficulty finding transportation to access birth control or money to pay for any type of contraceptive altogether. Not only are women in poverty exceptionally more likely to have an unintentional pregnancy, but chances of additional consequences, such as lack of proper prenatal care, are also higher. It's only logical that our government take preemptive measures against unwanted pregnancies if it seeks to reduce the number of abortions. Providing more birth control coverage is one effective method of doing so. As long as the government continues to neglect its responsibilities in ensuring contraceptive coverage for all, inequality will continue. This exclusion of the low-income individuals violates the promises of not only the fulfillment of reproductive rights, but reproductive justice as well. Those in poverty will continue to suffer because of the government’s inability to provide the basic right of choosing whether or not to have children — a foundational tenant of reproductive justice.
There does exist an economic incentive for the federal government to provide universal contraceptive coverage beyond simply protecting reproductive rights. The more access women have to contraception, the less unintended pregnancies will occur, meaning more women will be able to keep and work jobs, pursue an education and contribute to the growing economy. Giving women control of when they reproduce translates to a greater, stronger, less variable workforce. America consistently acts in favor of business and economic interests, but perhaps some have not considered the various benefits to business the advancement of reproductive justice provides.
The benefits of providing universal contraceptive coverage under all health insurance providers greatly outweigh any possible consequences. Universal coverage would make birth control even more accessible to the disadvantaged, helping tear down the wall between the poor and the wealthy. Additionally, extended coverage of birth control would benefit economic and business interests by creating a larger, more cohesive workforce. If the U.S. wishes to be taken more seriously internationally in regard to human rights advocacy, and improve our quality of reproductive justice, drastic measures must be taken in the near future.
Yasmeen Dohan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.