Women’s lives are complex and multi-faceted. Their reproductive well-being is one of many issues that determines their overall health and well-being. Reproductive well-being in and of itself is multi-dimensional; but ensuring that all women — no matter who they are or where they live — have full access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services is without a question, foundational reproductive well-being. As the new Congress begins its work, we urge policymakers to make equitable access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services a key priority.
Why is this important? Because 99 percent of all women of childbearing age in the United States have used birth control at some point in their lives and because nearly one in four of U.S. women will access abortion services during their lifetime.
Over the past five decades, access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services has contributed to significant strides in women’s ability to achieve their life goals and to live life on their own terms. Prior to birth control being made legal for all women, for example, there were no female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Today, there are more than 30.
Further, since birth control was made legally available to all women, the proportion of women 25 and older with at least a high school diploma increased from 55 percent to 90 percent and the proportion women who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree rose from 8 percent to 35 percent.
Despite all these advances, there is still significant work to be done. Millions of women lack access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services, especially the most marginalized women. In fact, more than 19 million women in need of publicly funded contraception live in contraceptive deserts, counties in which there is not reasonable access to a public clinic that offers the full range of contraceptive methods.
Further, an estimated 11 million women do not have health insurance, making the cost of birth control challenging if not completely out of reach. These systems failures lead to inequities, including disproportionately high rates of unintended pregnancy among women of color, women living in poverty and women living in rural and frontier communities.
The roadmap to help ensure all women have a strong system of support, which includes access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services, is clear. We need to ensure equitable access to quality sexual health information, reproductive health services and ensure women’s agency over their own lives and bodies.
In that effort, our policymakers can play an important role to address the structural inequities that persist. Such action includes supporting policy initiatives that expand insurance coverage, including no co-pay coverage of birth control to the millions of women who remain uninsured in the U.S. In addition, eliminating bans on coverage of the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion, would help safeguard access from systemic inequities.
Additional policy efforts would include improving information and access to birth control for all women serving in the military and their beneficiaries; and supporting policies that improve reproductive wellbeing by utilizing pregnancy intention screening tools. Furthermore, we call for robust funding of the Title X Family Planning Program and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.
We call upon Congress to seize opportunities to adopt policies and public funding to expand information, access and opportunity to serve all people. We know it won’t be easy. The current administration continues to propagate policy initiatives that are designed to strip away the protections and funding that have helped millions of women — particularly those most in need — for decades.
Our organization remains committed to working alongside its sister organizations to fight for the progress of all women — regardless of who they are or where they live. With strength in numbers we elevate our voices to call on members of the 116th Congress to champion these efforts. We ask you to join our call and help make clear once and for all that the power to decide of all women and young people will not be compromised.
Ginny Ehrlich is CEO of Power to Decide, the campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancy.