Talk to any woman you know, and there’s a good chance she has used birth control medication at some point in her life.
In fact, according to a December 2014 Center for Disease Control and Prevention article on a National Survey of Family Growth study, 2011-13, “61.7 percent of the 60.9 million women aged 15-44 in the United States were currently using contraception.”
And I was one of them. Contrary to what many individuals think women use birth control medication for — preventing an unwanted pregnancy — there are many other reasons half of the population in this country uses this prescription. For me, I was prescribed birth control medication to treat adult acne. I continued to stay on it when I met Joe, my then-boyfriend, turned-fiance, now-husband. I stopped taking the pills when we decided it was the right time to start a family. A couple years down the road, my OB-GYN prescribed birth control medication again — this time to prepare my body to breast-feed our adopted son. Following the Newman Goldfarb protocol, I took a high-milligram dose of a birth control prescription for nine months to mimic pregnancy, tricking my body into thinking I was carrying a child. Six weeks before Benjamin was born, I stopped the pills, started pumping and took another prescription that has a side effect of lactation.
Here are some other instances when women want and need to use birth control medication:
• Endometriosis — the abnormal growth of cells outside of the uterus
• PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) — a hormonal disorder that can lead to infertility, among other things
• Irregular menstrual cycles
• PreMenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) — a severe form of PreMenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Some of the symptoms include anxiety, low energy, bloating and headaches.
• Menorrhagia — heavy bleeding. If untreated, it can lead to anemia.
• Perimenopause symptoms
On Oct. 6, President Donald Trump and his administration made the announcement, effective that day, employers will not be required to provide contraception access at no cost to employees based on religious beliefs or moral convictions.
“Employers were required to cover at least one of all of the 18 FDA-approved methods of birth control with no cost-sharing for the patient,” an Oct. 6 article titled “Trump reverses Obama rule on birth control” by The Atlantic said. “While places of worship themselves were always exempted on the grounds of religious freedom, other religious entities or enterprises owned or operated by churches, like Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals and other independent charities were not,” the article continued.
On Oct. 11, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro “became the latest official to sue the Trump administration over its move to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s birth control coverage mandate,” The Inquirer said in its Oct. 11 article titled “Pennsylvania sues Trump administration over birth control rollback.”
Other states to have filed suit are California, Massachusetts and Washington.
Shapiro said the rollback is in violation of the separation of church and state. During the news conference in Pennsylvania Oct. 11, Shapiro also added, “Millions of women could be denied needed contraceptive care against the advice of science, public health and medical professionals.”
As a way to include the voices of fellow women of the Lehigh Valley and beyond, I posted on Facebook asking a few questions about employers not being required to provide contraception coverage.
Upper Milford Township resident Lyn L., as she preferred to be called, said she’s not in agreement with Trump’s decision on birth control medication.
“Some women need birth control for medical reasons. Other women are just not in a place to start a family. Some are with men who refuse to use a condom. And the number one reason why — This is America. Your religious beliefs do not trump my rights as an individual.”
L., 47, said she used a birth control prescription last year for several months before she had a hysterectomy to remove a very large fibroid.
“It alleviated pain and bleeding and helped to shrink the tumor, so I could have minimally invasive surgery,” she said.
The recent change for coverage could affect her, she said.
“[The decision] could (affect me) if I needed to go back on birth control to control anything with my remaining ovary. I also worry if my wife would need it for any reason.”
Denied coverage for her and her family means they would be “unable to obtain proper medical treatment without a financial burden (and) forced to utilize other medical treatments,” L. added.
Lisa Snell Kern, of Palmerton, had the opposite view: “I am in agreement with [Trump’s decision]. Organizations that are built on religious principles or by founders with religious convictions should not have to pay for something that is against their beliefs. It would be similar to requiring Sacred Heart Hospital, a Catholic institution, to perform abortions,” she said.
Snell Kern herself was a birth control medication user: “I no longer need birth control physically [because] about eight years ago, I had a tubal ligation in order to avoid taking a daily pill. I took birth control pills for about nine to 10 years and had to pay out of pocket for my monthly pack. It was the right choice that I made to be responsible and not have children before I was prepared to care for them.”
Emmaus resident Samantha D., who preferred only her first name and last name initial be used, said she feels very angry regarding Trump’s recent announcement. Using a birth control prescription to regulate heavy menstrual cycles, D. said she doesn’t believe this decision will affect her, but she’s “furious at this attack on those who will be. We need health care, not wealth care,” she said.
Another woman, Chelsea C., whose last name she wanted omitted, said she took birth control medication from age 16 to 26.
“I’m a huge advocate for its availability. I used birth control to help with some hormonal issues I had as a teenager,” C. said.
The Slatington resident said she doesn’t agree with the president’s decision and believes a woman’s decision to use birth control medication should be between herself and her doctor.
“I feel that the use of birth control should be a personal decision and not a decision that is dictated by my insurance or the company I work for. In terms of the religious aspect, it is discrimination for a company not to hire someone because of their religious beliefs — so why should it be permissible for them to deny certain aspects of health care coverage based on personal religious beliefs?” she said.
In an interview with NPR’s David Green Oct. 9, Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president, spoke with Green and discussed the successes of no-cost access to birth control prescriptions for women.
“And the basic fact here is that millions and millions of women, now about 62 million women, have access to birth control and their insurance plan at no cost. And it’s led to amazing successes. Women have saved a lot of money. The estimates are 1.4 billion dollars alone the first year. We’ve reduced unintended pregnancy — the lowest rate of teen pregnancy in the history of the United States. And women are getting better birth control. All of these are good things. They allow women to plan their families and stay in the workforce. And this decision is basically now going to turn the reins over to your boss to decide whether or not women can get birth control. And that’s just not going to be good for women,” Richards said.
A reduction in unintended pregnancies is good, especially for those who are prolife, as it could be related to the decrease in abortions. In a Jan. 17, 2017, The Guardian article titled “U.S. abortion rate is lowest since Roe v. Wade — but contraception access may go,” the author, Molly Redden, said, “The rate of abortion in the U.S. reached a lower level in 2014 than in any other year since the procedure first became legal, a study has found, a decline that appears to be due to the widespread use of contraception producing a drop in unintended pregnancies.”
The debate of birth control — and if it entails a religious aspect — is, quite frankly, archaic and ridiculous. Women in America, women in the Lehigh Valley are using this prescription for medical reasons. And if they aren’t, what would be more responsible and mature than a woman — or a family — deciding she is not emotionally or financially ready to parent a child?
If a company would decide to stop providing birth control to its female employees because of this new rollback, I wonder if it will still pick up the tab for Viagra and vasectomies — a prescription and procedure that puts sexual activity decision-making and family planning in the hands of its male employees. We clearly don’t have our sense of equality set in this country if that is the case.
Free or low-cost birth control coverage is undeniably basic women’s health care.
Stacey A. Koch
Catasauqua Press, Northampton Press, Whitehall-Coplay Press