LAST FRIDAY, the Trump administration made good on now-ousted Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s promise to “re-examine” the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, reversing the ACA mandate that birth control be available without a copay.
With new rules written by a lawyer with ties to anti-abortion groups (so you know this isn’t about public health), the Trump administration will now allow employers to refuse coverage for birth control. This doesn’t just apply to religious organizations, either—the new rules specify that employers with “moral” objections can also deny workers coverage.
Justifications for the new regulation are shaky, to say the least. According to reporting last week from the New York Times, one of the reasons for the change given by the administration is that birth control carries “health risks” and “the mandate could promote ‘risky sexual behavior’ among some teenagers and young adults.”
Here’s the thing about the claim that access to birth control encourages promiscuity: It’s a myth. A 2014 study in St. Louis called the Contraceptive Choice Project, which offered free birth control to 9,256 women and teenage girls, found no correlation between increased birth control access and an increase in the number of study participants’ sexual partners. The argument that birth control leads to promiscuity isn’t a scientific one—it’s completely ideological.
The same goes for the insinuation that because birth control carries health risks, its access should be limited—an argument that conveniently ignores that all kinds of medicines have health risks. But not being able to prevent pregnancy, or not being able to use birth control to treat health conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), are both riskier propositions than the ones the administration claims to be concerned about.
It’s also worth noting that militant measures like these aren’t particularly pro-life, because increasing access to birth control has been shown to reduce abortion rates—cut off access and you risk the opposite. And making people pay out of pocket is one of the most effective ways to keep birth control out of reach, especially in its most effective forms. Just ask anyone who’s ever had to pay for an IUD without insurance.
The Obama administration’s birth control mandate was groundbreaking, but it also simply wrote into law what we already knew: Birth control is a necessary part of health care. It’s medicine.
Now, with the Trump administration’s latest attack, we can no longer rely on federal protections for safeguarding birth control access, so they’ll need to come from the states. Reproductive rights advocates are emphasizing Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) as one way of safeguarding access under a hostile administration. RHEA, which passed both chambers in July and which Gov. Kate Brown signed in August, enshrines copay-free reproductive health care services, including birth control and abortion, into law, as well as protections for transgender patients and undocumented immigrants. “We are so grateful that Gov. Kate Brown recently signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which protects no-cost coverage for contraception in Oregon statute,” said Lisa Gardner, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon, in a statement released last Friday. “We will do everything in our power to enforce this landmark law and to stop Donald Trump from rolling back the progress women have made over the past century.”