Take Two #18: The Birth Control Debate

By Kyra-lin Hom

Despite the Obama administration's announcement that it is no longer requiring religiously based employers to provide no-cost birth control to all female employees and is instead giving that responsibility to the insurance companies, anti-abortion campaigners are still up in arms. At this point, I feel like it's just stubborn momentum carrying them forward. Either that or a complete misunderstanding of the issues at stake. Maybe I'm shooting from the hip, but hear me out.

Several major players against this push for free birth control including Republican hopeful Rick Santorum and the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America have repeatedly and inaccurately equated contraception with abortion. Specifically they keep referring to 'abortion-inducing drugs.' This is misleading.

Medically speaking, an abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy. The drug in reference, commonly known as Plan B, is an emergency contraceptive pill that can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Again medically speaking, it prevents pregnancy by keeping the fertilized egg from implanting itself within the uterus. It is in no way an abortion-inducing drug anymore than the standard birth control pill. But because of its many possible side effects, what it can induce is the most painful period you've ever experienced. For those men who don't know what this means, imagine getting kicked in the groin for...oh about 24 hours straight and then enduring the ache for the next four to six days. So for anyone – male and female alike – thinking that this pill encourages unsafe sexual practices anymore than any other contraceptive, think again.

The nature of Plan B aside, these new policies don't require anyone to use contraceptives or be sterilized. They only make these options available and affordable to people who want them. Now that religious institutions are off the hook, what's the big complaint? Birth control isn't exactly something new.

As of 2010, eight out of ten American women believed contraceptives to be standard preventative healthcare and three out of four Americans thought birth control should at least be supplemented if not completely paid for by insurance companies. More recent statistics show that 98% of Catholic women have at some point in time used contraceptives and that nearly 60% of them believe that is should be covered by employer healthcare. Studies have also shown that an increase in the use of contraceptives directly correlates with a decrease in the number of abortions – something that people on both ends of the political and social spectrum seem to want.

So I ask again, who exactly is complaining? In an age where international aid workers are actively trying to educate women about safe sex and birth control in third world countries, I don't understand why this is suddenly an issue in ours. If the government wants to help supplement the amount women spend on healthcare – on average 68% more than men – for goodness sakes let them.

Let's gender-switch this for a moment. The male equivalent of the birth control pill and Plan B, which we've established is just another kind of contraceptive pill and not an abortion drug, is the oh so classic condom. Now let's propose a law that says condoms must be supplied free of charge by employer healthcare. What's the reaction? I'm willing to put money down that no one aside from Trojan and the suddenly much poorer health insurance companies will be complaining. I might even double down that there will be celebratory frat parties. It may seem like I'm being flippant, but I'm not.

A public college in central Pennsylvania came under fire this week when federal regulators discovered the college offered Plan B in its vending machines even though 85% of the student body support this program. The female students in particularly feel more comfortable using the vending machines than asking for Plan B in the small town pharmacies. Now I think that getting a pill with possibly severe side effects without medical supervision is a bit risky, but that's not my point. In the photo accompanying this article (written by Geoff Herbert for Syracuse.com) I noticed something else in the vending machine: condoms. But that little factoid didn't make it into the article or the federal regulators' report.

Abortion is a mess of morals, science and definitions of life. Birth control is smart, preventative care. It is how families don't end up with children they can't afford. So let's leave abortion out of this and focus back in on what this policy is really about rather than riding it for misleading media hype.

Do you agree? Disagree? Please write in and let me know why.

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