Replying to my mom’s concerns about no-cost birth control

This blog was submitted to the National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood’s Birth Control Blog Carnival (BCBC) — view all the BCBC posts here.

While discussing birth control access and the upcoming decision on whether birth control copays will be eliminated, my mom made the following three points:

  • Birth control is cheaper than the cost of a baby.
  • Can’t women get birth control at free clinics?
  • But taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill for other people’s birth control.

My mom is always useful for providing a mainstream, moderate voice to counter my oftentimes liberal voice (you may remember reading about her disgust at my using a menstrual cup). So if word on the street is that women just need to do a better cost-benefit analysis, find a free clinic, and stop thinking they can mooch off taxpayers to get free birth control, then it’s time to set the record straight.

Firstly, yes, birth control is undoubtedly cheaper than the cost of a child. But if cost is what’s stopping women from taking birth control, then likely women are simply risking unplanned pregnancy to spend that birth control money on other bills and expenses. It’s like if you can’t afford insurance — yes, you are well aware that the cost of renters insurance is cheaper than the cost of, say, replacing everything you own if your apartment burns to the ground, but the chances seem so slim and your money is needed for immediate expenses. When faced with immediate repercussions versus future consequences, we often focus on the immediate.

So that argument does well from a, “Well, you should have done your research,” chastising standpoint, but it doesn’t really seem to grasp that people know there are risks but simply have to choose how to allocate their limited finances. That’s why no-cost birth control — which eliminates out-of-pocket costs for women — would be such a breakthrough for birth control accessibility and unplanned pregnancy prevention.

Secondly, women can get birth control at free clinics — assuming that they are close to where they live and aren’t currently closing because of state laws aimed to shut down family-planning clinics that provide abortion services. For instance, Planned Parenthood has a free birth control program, but these programs are in danger thanks to state and federal attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. And some states only have a few of these clinics, so traveling there for free birth control would take a sizable amount of time and money.

You can go here and find a list of family-planning clinics that offer reduced but not necessarily free birth control, though these are Title X funded and could be in danger depending on legislative attempts to deny Title X funds to family-planning clinics. It’s easy enough to say, “Just go to Planned Parenthood,” but low-income women are going to run out of places to turn for affordable contraception if politicians keep trying to defund and close down these clinics. Yet another reason no-cost birth control is so important.

Thirdly, you’re already subsidizing other people’s lifestyle choices. On the list of preventive services already covered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, there are items regarding obesity, tobacco, alcohol, STIs — you could craft an argument for most of the list that your tax dollars are enabling someone else’s poor decision somewhere along the line. This also sounds like the argument some elderly people make for not wanting to pay for school levies — they have no connection to the school system so why should they pay for it? Well, because education has a greater community purpose.

And birth control serves a community purpose, too. By planning pregnancies, women (and men) can better focus on getting an education, following career goals, and ensuring that if they do want to plan a pregnancy, they are in a solid place financially and emotionally to make that decision. Healthier babies, fewer abortions, less need for government assistance, people being able to get an education and jobs — these all benefit society as a whole.

Want to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to put birth control on the list of preventive services? Sign the petition here.

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3 Responses to “Replying to my mom’s concerns about no-cost birth control”

  1. Tori Says:

    Can’t women get birth control at free clinics?

    Just to add to this point, it’s worth pointing out that, even for people who live near free clinics, there’s an often substantial gap between, “My income is such that I qualify for subsidized birth control,” and, “My income is such that I can reliably afford my birth control without forgoing other necessary expenditures.”

    Also, even for folks who qualify for sexual health care services on a sliding scale, sometimes that scale does not slide far enough. I had a friend who, within the past 2 years or so, was unemployed and went to her county health department for an exam and birth control. She was quoted an inclusive price — for the exam and a year’s worth of BC — of $175 (which works out to $13/pack for BC if we assume the exam is a freebie). Her response? “That would be a really awesome deal… if I had $175.”

    • cathyjwilson Says:

      That’s a great point — especially the “qualifying” for subsidized birth control part. It’s not just a free-for-all at clinics where they dole out free birth control to anyone who shows up.

  2. Replying to more arguments regarding no-cost birth control Says:

    […] writing about birth control access last week, I’ve come across a few more arguments in the comments section of my WordPress blog/my OpenSalon […]

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