When the Affordable Care Act was enacted we at the Black Women’s Health Imperative were excited for this legislation, particularly because of its adoption of a contraceptive coverage mandate.
The mandate provides contraceptives without cost-sharing, thereby removing cost as a barrier and providing a level of economic stability for women who want to prevent unintended pregnancies.
On July 10, Robert Pear published “Foes of Obama-Era Rule Work to Undo Birth Control Mandate” in the New York Times, in which he highlighted the fact that the Trump administration has plans to issue an executive order that will pull the contraceptive coverage mandate.
If contraceptive coverage is pulled it will decimate a part of the ACA that has benefitted not just black women but millions of women and their families by giving them access to a variety of contraceptives so they can decide when and if to have children.
To our dismay, quotes from White House domestic policy aide Katy Talento, a long time opponent of birth control pills and the contraceptive mandate, were included in Pear’s piece. Talento’s comments are not new, but they are damaging because they are factually incorrect and have been debunked by respected subject matter experts and researchers.
Talento erroneously claims that birth control pills contain dangerous amounts of carcinogens. While studies have shown a possible link between oral contraceptives such as birth control pills and breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute states that there is only a slightly higher risk that declines after discontinuation of oral contraceptives and, conversely, a reduced risk of other reproductive cancers such as ovarian and endometrial cancers. In addition, millions of women use birth control pills to control other conditions, such as intrauterine bleeding, mood swings, premenstrual syndrome and acne.
What is equally disturbing is that Talento’s objections are centered on her views of birth control pills, which is only one of a range of FDA-approved contraceptive method covered under the contraceptive mandate (the mandate also includes diaphragms, intrauterine devices, and patient education and counseling, to name a few).
According to a study cited in the New England Journal of Medicine, women and girls who have access to free and effective methods of contraceptives experience lower rates of unintended pregnancy compared to their counterparts who use other forms of contraceptives. To use an argument against one form of contraception as justification to remove women’s access to all other forms of free and highly effective contraception amounts to executive branch malpractice.
The proposed executive order appears to not only honor the wishes of religious objectors, it would also apparently allow for moral objections to the contraceptive mandate. This further broadens the scope of objections, with the potential to allow objections from any employer, regardless of their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, these objections are additional barriers placed before women of color, particularly those of reproductive age.
Black women are more likely than their white counterparts to experience an unintended pregnancy because they are more likely to have difficulty paying for and accessing contraceptives and abortion services. As a result, black women are more likely to be thrown into poverty because they were denied the agency to plan their families in a way that best suits their needs. Policies like this proposed executive order and others attacking access to comprehensive reproductive health care like affordable contraceptives and a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion do nothing more than exacerbate the racial disparities in health and economic status currently experienced by black women.
It is disheartening to witness this Congress and Administration’s constant attacks against women’s health and incessant efforts to undermine women’s reproductive autonomy. We know that when women have access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, their lives as well as the lives of their families and communities are greatly improved.
To perpetuate false and dangerous information to further harmful policies does nothing more than ignore the value and contributions of a healthy woman to this nation. It is for this reason that I believe the government does in fact have a compelling interest in not just keeping the contraceptive mandate but ensuring it is upheld by all employers who enjoy the benefits of their healthy female workforce.
We at the Black Women's Health Imperative will continue to work on the front lines and advocate for sensible laws and regulations that protect black women and girls’ health and well-being.
Christy M. Gamble, JD, DrPH, MPH is the Director of Health Policy and Legislative Affairs at the Black Women's Health Imperative and an Allies Reaching for Community Health Equity Public Voices fellow at The OpEd Project.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.