Clara Williams has been a patient at Planned Parenthood for about a year and a half. After a stint in the corporate world, she left to start her own fashion business, and credits being able to access affordable contraception as one of the reasons why she’s been able to successfully make her own way.
“Birth control is very important to me after an unplanned pregnancy with a terrible partner,” Williams wrote in a testimonial championing the importance of contraceptive coverage. “It’s happened twice. I can’t do that anymore. I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s my choice. If my partner screws up and I get pregnant, they can walk away but I can’t walk away from it. That’s the power of the uterus.”
Williams’ story is just one of many that shows the impact affordable birth control has for millions of women and families. In October, the Trump administration announced the rollback of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which requires employers to cover the cost of contraceptives in their health insurance plans. The two interim final rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, effective immediately, allow any employer, including publicly traded companies, the option to back out of providing its women workers important preventative health coverage by simply claiming a religious or moral objection.
In the wake of this announcement, a slew of organizations—including the PPFA, the ACLU, the National Partnership for Women and Families, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catholics for Choice, Human Rights Watch, and so many others—rallied together as part of #Fight4BirthControl. Advocates are currently collecting comments from the public (due by midnight December 5) to show the federal government just how unpopular these new rules are.
One fairly new campaign is the Keep Birth Control Copay Free initiative, which has aimed to raise awareness about the issue by helping women create an “invoice” for how much they might spend on contraception without the mandate in place. Beyond being a cool gimmick, the invoice doubles as a public comment opposing the rules, which will be filed to the Federal Register.
More than 62 million women are able to get their birth control without any out-of-pocket costs because of the ACA mandate.
Amy Runyon-Harms is the Keep Birth Control Copay Free campaign coordinator. She told VICE Impact that so far, the campaign has collected tens of thousands of comments. She called that “just a drop in the bucket” compared to what other more established organizations have surely collected. “I think the volume we’re hearing from the numbers of people who are submitting is exactly reflective of how people feel about birth control in general,” she said. “Birth control simply is not controversial among voters.”
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The majority of participants in a new public opinion survey agreed: Nine in ten voters said birth control is an important part of women’s ability to control their bodies, lives and futures.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than 62 million women are able to get their birth control without any out-of-pocket costs because of the ACA mandate. That’s a savings of, according to one study, more than $1.4 billion annually. As a result, more women have been able to control when they have children and address certain health issues, thus leading to greater economic security and healthier families.
“It’s our hope that that this will be model legislation for other states around the country that also want to protect women’s access to birth control."
At the heart of this fight is what the federal government thinks is more important: an employer's right to exercise his religious or moral beliefs or a woman's right to make decisions about her own body. In a statement, Dana Singiser, Vice President for Public Policy and Government Relations, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pointed out that these new regulations “would mean women across the country could be denied insurance coverage for birth control on a whim from their employer or university. ... Under this rule, bosses will be able to impose their personal beliefs on their female employees’ private medical decisions.”
Though the public comment period to oppose these changes ends this week, the fight for access to affordable birth control will continue will into early 2018—especially since considering Alex Azar, the latest nominee for HHS secretary, signaled in his confirmation hearing last week that he agreed with the administration’s stance on employer birth control coverage. Many advocates—as well as a handful of states—believe the way the Trump administration rolled out these rules was unconstitutional, and have filed lawsuits to block the change. Kelly Percival, an attorney with Americans United for Separation of Church and State who filed a lawsuit on behalf of five women last month, told Broadly that one of the most astonishing things about the way HHS went about issuing these rules was that officials ignored the "very specific set of procedures" they're required to follow by law.
In addition to these legal fights playing out in court, Runyon-Harms added, advocates expect to see a number of states take up bills to codify the birth control benefit—regardless what happens on the federal level—when the state legislatures reconvene in January. In November, Massachusetts became the first state to do so.
"I really personally don’t want to see us go back to a time when women have to choose between between groceries and their preferred method of contraception.”
“It’s our hope that that this will be model legislation for other states around the country that also want to protect women’s access to birth control,” Runyon-Harms said.
To add to the thousands of stories being shared online and elsewhere about why contraception coverage is so important, Runyon-Harms, who’s in her 40s and doesn’t plan on having children, shared her own reason for being involved in this fight. “When I was newly married and my husband was going to graduate school, I had an hourly job. I had gotten laid off from my previous nonprofit job, and had to take an hourly job where I was making very low wages. I happened to work at an OB/GYN clinic, and this was pre-2012, so of course IUDs at that point for me were not covered under my birth control. But it was my preferred method.”
If it weren’t for her making friends with a drug rep, she recalled, she would have never been able to afford an IUD (which can cost more than $1,000) during that period in her life. “For me personally,” Runyon-Harms said, “this really hits home because I’ve been there. And I really personally don’t want to see us go back to a time when women have to choose between between groceries and their preferred method of contraception.”
Join the #Fight4BirthControl campaign to step up to out of touch lawmakers that want use your health care for political points. December 5, 2017 is the deadline for comments on the birth control rule - we need your input NOW.