I would never expect Donald Trump to be an advocate for women’s reproductive rights, but Friday he made a decision that was completely irresponsible. The Obama administration made contraceptive coverage in employee healthcare plans mandatory for employers. This opened the door for millions of women who previously could not afford birth control. On Friday, Trump rolled back that requirement leaving hundreds of thousands of women now responsible for birth control copays. Why? Religious freedom. Now employers will be able to declare “religious or moral objection” to avoid providing contraception to employees. This is yet another move by the Trump administration to rank religious concerns over the wellbeing of the American people. Some argue that access to contraception isn’t a woman’s right, but without it women pay the consequences.
This birth control rollback is a direct attack on women’s autonomy. American women have been fighting for their rights since our founding, and the Trump administration has shown us just how willing and able it is to act as an enemy of its people. Taking away easy access to birth control is a quick way to control women’s reproductive choices, especially for women in poverty. If women can’t afford the additional expense the government now imposes, they will have to change their sexual behaviors or face the very real possibility of unexpected and unwanted pregnancies. After all, if a woman can’t afford birth control, she will have a really difficult time affording a child.
Prior to 2008 unintended pregnancies were on the rise due to lack of access to birth control. That year saw a steep drop in unintended pregnancies. Why? More women were able to afford, and therefore, access birth control. It’s not rocket science.
Birth control isn’t only about avoiding pregnancy. In a male-dominated culture, and with Trump as president, the plethora of medical uses for birth control are widely ignored. For many women, contraceptives serve important medical purposes, including but not limited to treating Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, Amenorrhea, Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI), and preventing endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and ovarian cysts. According to the Guttmacher Institute, between 2006 and 2008, 1.5 million women used oral contraceptives for non-contraceptive purposes, and 58 percent of women relied on oral contraceptives in part for non-contraceptive reasons. So, taking away birth control access isn’t just making it hard for women to avoid pregnancy, it is lowering the quality of life and overall health for millions of women.
Trump’s contraception rollback would be surprising if he were the type of leader to consider the “bigger picture.” Religious freedom arguments against contraception neglect to consider that the alternatives lead to other acts just as morally challenging. History shows time and again that populations with limited access to birth control experience higher rates of unexpected births. Growing unexpected birth rates increase abortion rates. Maybe the one thing the religious right hates more than freely available contraception is abortion. Every year, legislation is introduced to take away American women’s access to safe abortions, and every year, more abortion clinics close. Perhaps the religious right believes that if there are no abortion clinics, abortions won’t exist, but as history blatantly tells us, women will find a way to have abortions, and without appropriate medical support and regulation, women will resort to unsafe measures that put their own lives at risk. The same administration fighting against abortion is now fighting against the best preventative for it, birth control.
Maybe a woman’s right to appropriate healthcare isn’t important to our current administration. So let’s talk dollars and cents. Unintended pregnancies are a major national expense. In 2010 the government forked over $21 billion to subsidize births, abortions, and miscarriages from unintended pregnancies nationwide compared to the $2.37 billion spent on publicly funded family and contraceptive services that same year. With Trump’s new mandate, the amount spent on births will skyrocket. In 2014, of the 38 million women who rely on contraception, 20 million relied on publicly funded programs.
It’s easy to see where the Trump administration’s loyalty lies. It isn’t with the public interest, but with the religious right. This was reaffirmed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions giving the green light Friday for businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ employees, again in the name of “religious freedom.” This is not just an attack on women. This is not just an attack on the LGBTQ community. If you value public health, civil rights, or simply where your taxes are going, you should be outraged.