One of the writers who contributed to the text of this editorial, Devika Daga, was discovered in February of 2007 to have plagiarized some of her stories . In this editorial, parts of the following sentence were plagiarized from The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy: “In no other area of public health outside of abortion would a preventative health measure
be so caught up in party politics.”

Sarah Royce

All editorials in The Michigan Daily represent the views of the members of its editorial board. The plagiarism has no weight on the arguments presented in this editorial and the editors stand by those arguments.

Pro-choice activists in the state of Michigan declared a recent victory when the Michigan Civil Rights Commission ruled that under the state’s civil rights act, women must have access to birth control in their prescription drug coverage. Those denied birth control coverage will be able to file in court. The decision is undoubtedly one to applaud; indeed, the new mandate will provide more women access to contraception and penalize employers who fail to provide coverage. The fact remains, however, that while at least 24 other states have passed laws legalizing contraceptive coverage, similar bills have repeatedly been suppressed in the Michigan Legislature. Increasing access to contraception – and thereby decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies – ought to be a goal both pro-choice and pro-life politicians can agree upon.

Federal law only requires businesses with more than 15 employees to cover contraception. In Michigan, where 60 percent of employers have fewer than 15 employees, such federal protection does little to promote contraceptive equality; the MCRC’s ruling extends coverage to women whose health insurance is provided by such an employer. It shouldn’t have been the MCRC’s job, however, to ensure that women have access to birth control in Michigan. Unfortunately, an attempt by Republican legislators to appeal to a small, staunchly conservative minority led to the repeated suppression of a contraceptive bill in the state Legislature.

Medical realities and the social needs of women in this state make access to contraception necessary. Indeed, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, at least 1.2 million women are in need of contraceptive service, and of these, 582,140 women need publicly supported contraceptive services because they have incomes below the federal poverty level. Publicly funded family planning clinics in Michigan, however, can only provide contraceptive care to 40 percent of these women.

If more than half the women who need such services and supplies in Michigan are being ignored, it should be no surprise that abortion has become such a heated issue on the state and national level. In a country with one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancy in the industrialized world – and where more than 20 percent of such pregnancies end in abortion – support for preventative methods should be a top priority for policymakers. Instead, in a stubborn effort to avoid getting entangled in the subject of abortion, policymakers often exacerbate the issue by creating barriers that make it difficult for women to obtain contraception.

The shortsightedness of Michigan and U.S. policymakers stands in sharp contrast to the example of Chile – a largely Catholic nation where abortion is illegal, but where contraception has just been made available free of charge for all women over the age of 14. In doing so, the government is addressing the root of the problem – namely that, regardless of religious affiliation, lack of access to contraceptives leads to more unwanted pregnancies and more women seeking abortions.

In no other area of public health outside of abortion would a preventative health measure be so caught up in party politics. Birth control not only prevents unwanted pregnancies and the health risks associated with pregnancy, but may also be prescribed for other medical reasons. That the state Legislature has repeatedly failed to address gender discrimination in the form of unequal access to health care is an example of just how intensely polarized the abortion issue has become. Thankfully, the MCRC had more sense than a Legislature which, by its inaction, merely worsened the very situation its anti-abortion members seek to resolve.

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