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July 3, 2014 at 6:01 AM

Make birth control pills available over the counter

This week’s Supreme Court decision favoring Hobby Lobby’s religious rights over the ability of its employees to access a full range of birth control options is a bad one, but it’s also a catalyst for change.

Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled 5-4 that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

One way to get around the politics of the Affordable Care Act is to make birth control as accessible and affordable as possible to all women, regardless of whether they have insurance coverage.

As Vox reported on Monday, some Republicans are now in favor of taking birth control out of the insurance arena and making it available to women over the counter. Reproductive health experts have been studying and advocating this approach for a long time. The Seattle Times published an editorial in December 2012 that encouraged the FDA to consider the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) recommendation to provide oral contraceptives (aka the pill) to women without a prescription.

Here’s an excerpt:

Many women cannot afford the cost of birth control or the doctor’s visit necessary to access the different methods sold on the market.

One consequence is that half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, according to the ACOG. That figure hasn’t changed in 20 years…

Other forms of contraceptives, including intrauterine devices and shots, are not part of this equation. But after decades of study, birth-control pills have proved to be a common, cost-effective method for many.

No drug is without risk, not even aspirin. Do we trust women to follow instructions? Are they capable of detecting adverse side effects and seeking help if they need it? The ACOG’s decision was based on evidence that suggests they are.

Making certain forms of birth control available to more women would get the government and the Supreme Court out of the business of creating exceptions for select companies. From a personal responsibility viewpoint, this approach would give couples the ability to plan their families. It might even reduce the need for people to consider abortions — which is the core issue companies such as Hobby Lobby are truly opposed to.

Keep in mind the pill is not the right birth-control method for all women, but it is effective for many. And it’s better than no protection at all.

Consider the facts:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 47 percent of American high school students were sexually active in 2013 — 34 percent of them reported they had sexual intercourse within the previous three months, and 41 percent of them did not use a condom.
  • National teen pregnancy rates have dropped thanks to better education and preventive programs, but the overall number of Medicaid births has risen to nearly half of all deliveries in this country.

Post-Hobby Lobby, other companies might try to find exemptions for covering all forms of birth control. Policymakers should watch for unintended consequences and consider ways to preserve and promote more access to birth control, not less. Society can pay a little now to help prevent unintended pregnancies, or pay a lot more later when these babies are born into poverty.

Comments | Topics: birth control, hobby lobby

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