The House of Representatives is always a hub for debate, but few are as controversial as the current discussion over contraception coverage. Broaching the sensitive subjects of religion and gender rights, this conversation has all ingredients that make up a heated sociopolitical battle.
The issue in question is a national campaign that would allow companies to cut coverage of contraception for female employees. The parties, per usual, have taken opposite stances.
The GOP has been making a concerted push to pass the bill, saying it’s a matter of religious freedom: no company should be required to fund contraception if they disagree with the philosophy behind it (read: preventing natural pregnancy).
The Democrats, conversely, have been calling for personal freedom: women should have the right to access affordable contraception and have a say in such (they were grossly underrepresented at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing where the bill was discussed… as in, not represented at all.)
Political affiliation aside, this was a foolish move on the part of the House Committee. When discussing female issues, you need a female perspective. Period. But in my opinion, this is not a matter of religion, politics or women’s rights so much as it’s a matter of health.
Unbeknownst to the all-male board (note the irony), not all women use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. And those who do may have equally significant health reasons for controlling birth. So while political Houses and Holy houses alike are using this issue as leverage to appeal to a conservative crowd, doctors are left scratching their heads and wondering when this left their wheelhouse.
In recent years, studies have revealed the effectiveness of certain contraceptives for treating a number of hormonal and intestinal issues, while also preventing a host of reproductive issues. As many as 1.5 million women are prescribed birth control to decrease their risk of ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and endometrial cancer. Others are prescribed to buffer the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), such as irritability, cramping, fatigue, headache, and insomnia. Others find it an effective method for regulating fluctuating hormones that can result in depression and acne.
These are not trivial issues. Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancers to affect the female reproductive system; and the American Cancer Society believes that 30,000 global cases could be prevented every year with contraception use alone. So while political figures are pitching their religiously-charged agendas, 30,000 lives could potentially hang in the balance.
As with all diseases and health conditions, they’re not swayed by what god you pray to or which party you ally with… only by what prevention and treatment you can offer.
If contraception plays such an important role in female health, it begs the question: why are political pundits and religious leaders discussing contraception more than health officials?
It boils down to a general misunderstanding about the functions of contraception. These misunderstandings feed the social stigma and incite extreme reactions from political and religious factions who disagree with the ideas that this practice presumably represents.
For one, there is the misconception that most women who use contraception are engaging in pre-marital sex, one of the most predominant no-no’s as set by religious institutions and staunch Conservatives. Truthfully, it is an equally effective tool for married women who want to prevent pregnancy so as to protect their bodies from the strain of consecutive pregnancies and protect the economic stability of their family unit.
A study published in the British Medical Journal found that women with very short intervals between pregnancies have a higher risk of complications like premature birth and newborn death. This even includes women whose first pregnancy went smoothly. The reason may lie with proteins within the mother’s body that help regulate delivery; researchers suggest that short intervals between pregnancies might not allow the proteins to return to safe pre-pregnancy levels.
From an economic perspective, families may not have the tangible or financial resource to provide for a large family, but they don’t want to abandon their intimate life with their spouse. In these situations, a cost-effective birth control method is perhaps the most practical option.
You could also argue that for those women who do use birth control for contraceptive purposes. Whether they conceived in wedlock or not, allowing them to prevent unplanned or unwanted pregnancies could decrease the number of abortions and the number of unprepared mothers and, by extension, improve the quality of life and health of full-term babies.
According to the National Survey of Family Growth, a staggering 49% of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Of that demographic, nearly 43% of these pregnancies are aborted. It’s an unfortunate reality, but oral contraceptives could be the key to decreasing these statistics. Also important, it will give women the freedom to plan any pregnancy in accordance with their own body and mind.
The medical community is quick to point out the danger of allowing religion and politics to infiltrate the discussion of contraception. Considering its critical health functions, it could be detrimental to cut coverage. Recently, 600 doctors (and 70 Catholics) signed a letter supporting a bill that would require employers to cover the cost of contraception. They said that, aside from a house of worship, an employer’s religious belief should not impede a woman from getting the care she needs.
This gesture, and the surrounding statistics, should be indicative that this society has to start approaching birth control as a serious medical issue, not a plank on some political agenda. Moreover, when it comes to the wellbeing of our national female community, a handful of men in Washington D.C. will not have the best perspective. You can bet your health on that.