Thursday marks World Contraception Day, an international initiative that aims to “improve awareness of contraception to enable young people to make informed decisions on sexual and reproductive health.” Every year, a group of medical experts and non-governmental organizations join forces to highlight the importance of birth control and ultimately raise awareness about the need for robust family planning programs. This year, mark the occasion by keeping in mind these five important facts about birth control:
1. Without contraception, women and their families are worse off both financially and physically.
On the surface, birth control may not seem like an economic issue. But for the women who rely on it to delay childbearing, it’s inextricably tied to financial success. A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute found that the majority of women say they need birth control so they can finish their education, keep a job, or support their families. Unintended pregnancies, on the other hand, are linked to economic hardship.
There are also significant health benefits to birth control. Many women use it to prevent ovarian cysts or regulate otherwise painful menstrual cycles. And when women are able to use birth control to space out childbearing, their children are less likely to be born prematurely or have lower than average birth weights. The Centers for Disease Control has declared the development of modern contraception to be one of the 10 most important public health achievements of the 20th century.
2. Thanks to Obamacare, 27 million women are now able to get birth control at no additional cost to them.
The health reform law takes big steps to ensure U.S. women’s access to affordable contraception by eliminating co-pays for birth control. Now, women with employer-sponsored health insurance are able to get a range of birth control options at no additional cost to them. That Obamacare provision has been in place for a little over a year, and an estimated 27 million women in the United States are currently benefiting from it.
Before Obamacare’s birth control benefit took effect, the high cost of contraception was prohibitive for many women. Oral contraceptives can cost as much as $1,210 each year for women without insurance, and even the women who are insured used to cover a significant portion of that cost. Other, long-lasting forms of birth control can be even more expensive than that. Many women used to report putting off a doctor’s visit to get a birth control prescription, switching to a less effective method, or failing to take their birth control as directed in order to save money.
3. Many women still face significant barriers to accessing family planning services.
Despite Obamacare’s progress in this area, many women still struggle to access the contraception they need. Last year, 13 million women of reproductive age went uninsured, and many of them likely couldn’t afford the type of birth control they would have otherwise preferred. Problematically, birth control is sometimes even more expensive in low-income areas. And particularly for young women who may not feel comfortable letting other people know they’re sexually active, the stigma surrounding reproductive health remains an issue. Many young women in rural areas aren’t comfortable seeking out reproductive services, and those who remain on their parents’ health insurance may want more privacy before getting a prescription for birth control pills.
This is an even bigger problem outside of the United States. Even though the international community recognizes that family planning is a fundamental human right, that right isn’t necessarily being realized for women everywhere. In the world’s poorest countries, the demand for modern forms of birth control is growing, but access to it isn’t keeping pace. About 222 million women in developing nations aren’t able to use the contraceptive methods of their choice because they lack the necessary information, resources, or support from their families.
4. Women have several different contraceptive options to choose between, but there need to be even more choices.
There are currently a range of modern birth control options. The oral birth control pill is one of the most common methods, but women can also choose spermicide, condoms, the ring, the patch, or longer-lasting methods like an intrauterine device (IUD) or an implant. All FDA-approved methods are covered under Obamacare’s birth control provision.
It’s good to have options so women can find a contraceptive method that suits their needs — and reproductive health experts say there actually need to be even more choices available. A recent study found that most women are interested in being able to choose a “pericoital” birth control option, or a pill that women would take only around the time they have sex. Just this month, doctors published a paper calling for the development of a once-a-month birth control pill. Many women would prefer more non-hormonal options; aside from copper IUDs, there isn’t a good range of contraceptive methods that don’t rely on hormones.
Developing new forms of birth control is often politically contentious, though, since social conservatives tend to be preoccupied with the distinction between ovulation and fertilization, decrying post-fertilization contraception as a form of abortion.
5. Even though teaching kids about birth control isn’t controversial, many health classes still don’t do it.
Thanks to more widespread use of birth control, teen births in the United States have plunged to a record low. But there are still a lot of misconceptions about contraception among American youth — one recent study found that a full 60 percent of teens incorrectly believe that birth control is less effective than it actually is. That’s largely because abstinence-only education programs often mislead students, over-exaggeration the risks of becoming sexually active.
Despite the significant evidence that comprehensive sex ed programs are the best way to equip youth with the information they need to protect their health, there’s still considerable political resistance to teaching kids the facts. The nation’s current sex ed legislation is a patchwork of different policies that often don’t require health classes to cover sex ed at all. Just 17 states and the District of Columbia mandate sexual education courses to include fact-based information about birth control. But public opinion on the issue isn’t nearly as divided as the politics would suggest. Comprehensive sex ed has enjoyed overwhelming support for years.