As we gear up for a new year in Congress, we want to highlight two recent declarations of support for increased access to contraceptive services.
In late November, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists joined the American Academy of Pediatrics in publicly supporting expanded access to contraception. Both groups, which together represent thousands of medical professionals, have agreed that improving access to contraception should be a high priority in the United States. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists specifically advocated for the ability to sell birth control over the counter without a prescription, while the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that women – and minors – should have prescriptions for emergency contraception in advance, making it more effective.
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the right to privacy not only allows an adult access to obtain contraceptives, but that this right also extends to include minors. We certainly hope that the medical community’s public support for contraception will encourage our legislators to draft bills that will turn these recommendations into actual policy.
Contrary to “abstinence-only” ideologues, the proper use of contraception does help sexually active people to remain disease free, as well as avoid unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the nation’s leading sexual health research organization, young people generally begin having sex at age 17, but only marry around their mid-20s. During this decade-long period when they engage in sex, contraception plays a key role in preserving good sexual and reproductive health. It is time our legislators across the nation recognize this fact.
Right now, though, young people ages 15 to 24 carry a disproportionate burden of new STDs diagnosed each year. Meanwhile, women ages 18 to 24 report higher rates of unintended pregnancy compared to the rest of the female population. We can address this reproductive health crisis effectively by expanding access to contraception. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has consistently reported the benefits of condom use in preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancy – in fact, when properly used, condoms have a .02% failure rate. Still, no method of birth control is perfect. However, expanding access to contraception enables women to take greater control of their own reproductive health.
The United States medical community is not alone in acknowledging and promoting this empowerment. On a global level, the United Nations has gone one step further by declaring that access to contraception is a human right. The UN reports that contraceptive options provide women with an opportunity to space pregnancies and plan their families more successfully with greater certainty. The World Health Organization echoes these same recommendations. It is known that family planning, possible through proper use of contraception, “has a direct impact on a woman’s health and well-being,” specifically because it “represents an opportunity for women for enhanced education and participation in public life.”
By giving women and men the tools they need to control their reproductive health we can create a stronger society that helps all individuals reach their full potential. True reproductive freedom rests on the ability to obtain the services necessary for maintaining good sexual health, and those services include access to contraceptive options.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the UN have all expressed support for this expansion of reproductive freedom – but we need your help to make sure that it remains on the legislative agenda. You can start by taking some time to determine which method of contraception works best for you. You can also use your social media networks to educate others about the importance of expanding access to contraception.
Most importantly, though, you should contact your representatives to advocate this issue further by reminding them that the larger effort to enhance reproductive healthcare is still a priority.