These days we do not have many occasions to celebrate a victory in women’s health. But, today we can mark on our calendars. Today, most private insurance companies in the United States will begin to cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception, free of co-pays. This is a BIG step forward, especially for many young women, for whom the cost of contraception can be prohibitive. Most young women with insurance will soon be able to choose among birth-control methods — oral contraception, injectables, the ring, IUDs, and others. They will be able to select the method that best fits their needs and lives, without cost standing in the way of their decision. With this new mandate, making women’s preventive care affordable for those with insurance, we are inching closer to the day when all young women will be able to choose the type of contraception that is right for them; when they can take full control of protecting their health and planning for their futures.
Unfortunately, over the last few months, there have been many attempts to do away with or limit the preventive health services to be covered under the Affordable Care Act – attempts that are likely to continue. Extreme legislation has been tried and has failed – such as the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed an employer to deny any coverage for any “moral” reason. Numerous lawsuits challenging the birth control coverage and the health care law overall are still in the works. And, though contraception and other preventive services will be covered for most of those with private insurance, conscience clauses still allow churches and other houses of worship to deny coverage to their employees, while students at colleges and universities which claim a religious exemption may not be covered until August 2013. We also cannot forget the women who are uninsured and the need to continue to fight for their rights to affordable contraception and the full range of medical care.
But for a brief moment we can take time to celebrate because the voices in support of women’s health, especially the voices of young people, have been heard loud and clear. Over the last few months, young people across the country have cried out in disbelief that in 2012 the country was debating birth control–because they know how essential it is to ensure access to affordable contraception:
- By the age of 19, 70 percent of American young people have had sexual intercourse, and preventing an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, is high on their priority list.
- Eight in ten (84 percent) unmarried Millennials say avoiding pregnancy is important to them. Especially in a challenging economy, young people understand the importance of being able to plan when to have children.
- For women younger than 30, the Pill is the leading method of contraception and it can be expensive. Birth control pills even for someone with insurance can cost $50 a month – or $600 a year. Over half of women 18 to 34 say they struggle with the cost of birth control.
- Seven in ten Millennials (69 percent) say the Pill is “one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the last Century that has had a positive impact on women’s day-to-day lives.”
- Among Millennials of color, eight in ten (84 percent) agree that contraception, like condoms and birth control pills, need to be available and affordable to help young people stay healthy; and 86 percent of young people of color consider birth control part of basic health care that should be covered by insurance.
- Millennials also strongly support access to contraception for all women, regardless of age or income level. Over three-quarters of Millennials (77 percent), a higher percentage than any other age group, believe methods of birth control should be generally available to those ages 16 or older without parental approval, and nearly nine in ten (86 percent) believe that we need to expand access to birth control for women who cannot afford it.
- Finally, a large majority of Millennials do not believe that an employer’s personal religious beliefs should affect their access to birth control: 62 percent of Millennials believe religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost. (Learn more about Millennial attitudes toward reproductive and sexual health and rights)
Not only do young people hold strong views on the need to ensure access to affordable contraception, they are acting on their beliefs. In the May Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, Millennials were more likely than any other age group to report taking some action (such as trying to influence a family member or writing to a newspaper) around women’s reproductive health choices–and they were most likely to say they had changed their minds about whom to vote for in reaction to something they had heard about women’s health choices in the last six months.
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Millennials have made it clear that they will not stand for attacks on women’s health and rights. In the last year, they have united to overturn the Mississippi law that would have declared almost all abortions illegal; they have raised their voices against a culture that blames women for their own rapes; and they have shown they won’t be silenced by male politicians who want to legislate women’s health but can’t stand to hear the word vagina said out loud. Specifically, when birth control coverage was under attack by social conservatives this winter and spring, thousands of college students all over the country joined together in the BC4US campaign, on Facebook and Twitter and through on-line petitions, to urge President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to stand firm.
Today, thanks in part to the activism and commitment of young people, private insurance coverage begins to reflect the health care needs and priorities of women. But, we still have a long way to go to ensure all women have access to affordable contraception and the full range of reproductive health services. And, I can guarantee you Millennials will not stand for anything less.