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Contraception has changed the game, but concerns over access linger

Contraception has changed the game, but concerns over access linger
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On Thanks, Birth Control Day, we take a moment to uplift our appreciation for all that birth control has made it possible in people’s lives. Since it became legal for married women in 1965 and all women in 1972, birth control has helped transform people’s reproductive health. Along the way, birth control has helped to provide women, families and society greater opportunities for success. 

While there is still work to be done to ensure equal pay, birth control has contributed to the 30 percent rise in women’s wage gains between the 1960s and 1990s. Also, between 1970 and 2017, the proportion of women age 25 and older with at least a high school diploma increased from 55 percent to 90 percent. Further, women who have access to contraception between the ages of 18 to 21 make 5 percent more per hour and 11 percent more per year by the time they are 40. 

Given birth control’s important role in people’s lives, it is not surprising it has widespread support. For one, nearly all women (99 percent) who have ever had sex with men have used a method of contraception at some point in their lives. Also, most adults (76 percent) believe that birth control is a basic part of women’s health care. Further, 86 percent of adults support access to all birth control methods, regardless of race, region and political affiliation

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There is no denying that the emergence of birth control was a game-changer for so many. The pandemic catapulted birth control to VIP status in women’s lives as the data indicates women are more likely to be impacted by COVID-19. In fact, a newly released poll commissioned by Power to Decide shows that when compared to last year, appreciation for birth control increased–significantly.

The poll shows that the vast majority of respondents age 18 to 34 (94 percent), compared to 72 percent in 2019, said they are thankful that birth control allows them or their partner to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child. Further, 84 percent appreciate birth control, compared to 57 percent in 2019, for the ability to work toward educational or professional goals. Additionally, 74 percent, compared to 57 percent in 2019, are thankful that birth control allows them to manage health conditions. 

This and other survey findings were released today from Power to Decide in honor of its eighth annual Thanks, Birth Control Day

It is remarkable that given the wide use, support and increased appreciation for birth control, access to the full spectrum of birth control methods remains limited. Particularly in these turbulent times, millions of people continue to face difficulty accessing the care they need. 

More than 19 million women of reproductive age in need of publicly funded contraception live in contraceptive deserts. In these areas, women lack reasonable access in their county to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. For these people, the challenges to accessing contraception such as traveling long distances, taking time off from work and the cost of child care are exacerbated by this lack of access, making contraception a luxury few of them can afford.  

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Understandably, concerns over access to contraception are unfortunately also growing. The same poll shows public concern over the accessibility and affordability of a specific method of contraception. Specifically, 51 percent of respondents age 18 and over (and 59 percent of respondents age 18 to 34) are concerned over the ability to afford or access contraception considering the most recent change in the Supreme Court. Further data also revealed that Democrats were significantly (69 percent) more likely to be concerned than Independents (49 percent) or Republicans (32 percent) about the shift in the Supreme Court. Our work in reproductive health tells us that the pandemic and shift in the Supreme Court have contributed to the increase in people’s concerns over their ability to access the health care they need.  

On Thanks Birth Control Day, let’s take a moment to make abundantly clear that birth control is basic health care which all people — regardless of who they are or where they live–need and deserve. With science and public support on our side, let’s give birth control the praise it warrants so that all people can have the power to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child. Please, join me in saying Thanks, Birth Control, using the hashtag #ThxBirthControl across your social media channels today. 

Gillian Sealy, Ph.D., MPH, is the interim CEO of Power to Decide.