Sisterhood Blog

The Anti-Contraception, Anti-Abortion Paradox

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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When I was a young adult and ready to start on the birth control pill, I found that its cost was not covered by my health insurance. Paying the retail price was onerous. It didn’t seem right that insurance wouldn’t cover contraception, though it did cover the cost of giving birth and possibly even abortion. It just didn’t make any sense.

Now, finally, the federal government is ready to rectify the situation, and make contraception more economically accessible to women and men by requiring health insurance to cover its cost.

According to this news story, the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is recommending that health insurers be required to pay for contraception so that there is no cost to the consumer as part of “preventive health services.”

The story says:

Defending its recommendations on contraceptive coverage, the panel said that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States were unintended, and that about 40 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion. Thus, it said, greater use of contraception would reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy, teenage pregnancy and abortion…. To reduce unintended pregnancies, the panel said, insurers should cover the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as sterilization procedures and “education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

I have never understood conservative political and religious groups’ opposition to funding contraception when they also oppose abortion rights. I do understand opposing abortion rights for religious reasons. But also opposing the availability of contraception? That’s just anti-woman.

I remember when, under President George W. Bush, the U.S. government de-funded the U.N. Population Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s money to African NGOs that provided contraception to women in some of the poorest places on earth. Places where the absence of contraception meant more births of children whose parents could not afford to feed them, and where it meant that there would be more dangerous abortions and more women dying in childbirth.

At the time, in this article, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof noted the paradox of a so-called pro-life administration making this decision.

As Vanessa Cullins, an obstetrician-gynecologist who is vice president for medical affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, notes in this recent New York Times op-ed, affordable birth control decreases abortions and also improves health, since women with unplanned pregnancies are less likely to receive appropriate prenatal care and more likely to have low-birth-weight babies with medical complications.

The Obama administration says that it is likely to accept the medical panel’s recommendation, which would require many insurers to cover contraception starting in 2013.

As Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said, “We are one step closer to saying goodbye to an era when simply being a woman is treated as a pre-existing condition.”

My only question is: What has taken so long?


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