I attended the March to End Rape Culture in Philadelphia last month, where many foundations offered free contraceptives and Planned Parenthood handed out information about safe sex and precautionary measures to take while being sexually active.
One week later, President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would allow exemptions to a rule of the Affordable Care Act requiring businesses to cover the cost of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including pills, rings and intrauterine devices.
The regulation, issued by the Health and Human Services Department, gives companies the right to deny women access to the necessary pharmaceuticals. It cites the First Amendment, claiming it is a business’ religious right to deny women access to health care coverage if it goes against its beliefs.
Trump, who has been quoted calling women “fat,” “pig,” “dog,” “slob” and “disgusting animal,” is now making contraceptives more difficult to access for women across the United States. The mandate is a sexist step back in time to when women were restricted to having sex for reproductive purposes only, and it puts women’s health in danger.
“Birth control is health care,” said Kristine Weatherston, the faculty adviser of Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and a media studies and production professor. “Decreasing contraceptives leads to an increased number of STDs and infections. More women will not be going to doctors for cervical and pelvic exams.”
I believe companies on board with rolling back this part of the ACA are more interested in controlling women’s bodies than keeping women healthy. It is commonly misconceived that birth control is primarily to prevent pregnancy, but it has many benefits.
“Women take birth control to regulate periods,” Weatherston said. “A regular period is healthy. Women also take birth control to help with acne, depression and gastrointestinal problems.”
A combination pill — birth control that contains the hormones estrogen and progestin — can help prevent bone thinning, cysts in the breasts or ovaries, endometrial and ovarian cancers, serious infections in the ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus, iron deficiency and premenstrual syndrome.
According to a report from Time Magazine, after the ACA was passed under former President Barack Obama in 2010, more than 55 million women were able to access birth control with no co-payments, and 67 percent of women with insurance paid nothing out of pocket. But according to the 2017 Willis Towers Watson Emerging Trends in Health Care survey, 11 percent of companies said they would stop providing coverage for birth control if it was optional. And now it is.
Twenty-eight states require health plans to cover all FDA-approved birth control. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of these states.
Individual states shouldn’t get to decide the health care options of constituents.
Weatherston said Trump’s mandate gives politicians a “false sense of superiority” over the public they serve, specifically women.
“It all goes back to access, affordability and independence,” she said.
Nadine Rosechild Sullivan, an adjunct instructor in the women’s studies department and author of the forthcoming book “Reproductive Self Determination,” agrees, adding that the mandate is biased in favor of the wealthy.
“In a situation with economic disparities attached, this will contribute to hardships,” Sullivan said. “Men also get hurt with pregnancies they didn’t plan. And in limiting access to people with less money, we will have less resources to accommodate the unplanned increasing population.”
Trump’s sudden interest in religious liberty is a partisan tactic to gain support from conservative voters and politicians. But it is not the right of Trump or male politicians in general to dictate women’s health needs or sex lives as a form of political strategy or religion.
Only time will tell if the Trump administration will continue to undermine women’s rights, but I won’t be surprised if it does. Now, we must continue to fight for equal access to health care, autonomy for all and the repeal of this misogynistic mandate.