Why the Trump Administration's New Birth Control Regulations Go Too Far
October 17th, 2017
On October 6th, the Trump administration made a decision that will negatively impact the lives of thousands of women across the country. In an action that was not surprising, considering President Trump’s history on issues regarding the well-being of women, Obama-era rules that required employers to cover birth control under the Affordable Care Act were rolled back.
Under Obama, religious institutions whose members were morally opposed to birth control did not have to cover it for their employees. Instead, insurance companies would cover it directly, so that there was still no cost for women. This system allowed specific employers to opt out of something that they had religious objections to while still ensuring the health and safety of women who worked for them.
These new rules, however, allow any employer to decide not to cover birth control for their female employees and make participation in the previous system optional. On the basis of moral or religious objections, employers can now decide to simply not cover an essential women’s health service. Thousands of women whose birth control was previously covered by insurance will now have to pay from their pockets if they want contraception, and some of them who cannot afford it will have to sacrifice either contraception or another key health service, a choice that no woman should have to make.
There are a ridiculous number of problems with these new regulations. In a speech Trump made in the White House Rose Garden five months ago, he said that “we will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore.” These new rules were put in place as a way of following up on this statement with action. However, the Obama-era rules did not force any religious institutions to cover birth control, and they found a way to do so without revoking necessary health services from thousands of women.
When birth control is covered regardless of whether or not the employer covers it directly, a woman’s health is not at risk, but when the beliefs of employers cause women to lose coverage, it is not up to the employer to decide whether or not they want to cover it.
The Trump administration also questioned how effective birth control was as a way of justifying these new rules. It suggested that some studies used in a 2011 report that identified a direct cause-and-effect link between birth control use and decrease in unintended pregnancy were not correct. Susan Wood, a former women’s health chief for the FDA, pointed out that there is very clear clinical data that birth control prevents pregnancy; why else would the FDA approve it? In her words, the Trump administration is “picking out things that they like, and leaving out [studies] that support access to contraception.”
The Trump administration also implied that free access to contraception could lead to “risky sexual behavior.” This statement is, quite simply, untrue; numerous studies have indicated the opposite. Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of the Indiana University School of Medicine has conducted studies on the effects of contraception. In his words, “There is no evidence to support the idea that giving contraception promotes sexual activity.” To go even further, a study that he and colleagues from Washington University conducted found that providing women with no-cost birth control decreased the number of sexual partners from the last month, and no evidence of sexually transmitted infections was found.
On top of all of this, Republican legislators cannot believe that people will accept both anti-abortion and anti-birth control laws; the two do not add up. Peipert (perfectly) summed it up: “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we don’t want abortion or we’d like to reduce abortion in the country, yet we don’t want to fund or provide contraception… It’s really about our society and our country’s feeling about women. Women should be empowered to control their reproduction.”
Aside from all of the things wrong with limiting women’s access to birth control in terms of women’s rights and allowing women control over their own bodies, birth control has many uses other than just to prevent pregnancy. According to WebMD, it can make periods more regular, lighter, and less painful, and it can stop menstrual migraines. It can also can help with the condition of endometriosis, which is when tissue that normally grows in the uterus grows out of it and causes periods to be heavy and more painful than usual. And according to Ginger Gardner, MD, who is a gynecologic cancer surgeon at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “Women that have taken the pill for 5 years or longer have a 50% reduction in the risk of developing ovarian cancer, and that benefit continues even after stopping the pill."
Time after time, Trump has shown women in America that he values the consciences of people opposed to birth control more than he values the health, safety, and ability of women to have control over their own reproduction. No one is telling people who are morally opposed to birth control to take it. However, it has been proven over and over again that birth control has many positive effects, and women who do use and rely on contraception regularly should not have to sacrifice that key health service because of another person’s belief, no matter how much that person has the right to hold that belief and individually act on it. Church and state need to stay separate; essential women’s health care, government and faith need to stay separate too.