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October 21, 2017

Out of Control

The Trump administration's moves to restrict birth control reflect a broader cultural ambivalence to the needs of women.

On October 6, the Trump administration unveiled new regulations rolling back the Obamacare mandate requiring employers to provide birth control coverage, without co-pays, to their employees. Under these new rules—effective immediately—employers have the liberty to exempt themselves from issuing this coverage by claiming to religious or moral reservations to contraception.

Trump frames this as a victory for religious freedom. In fact, the title of the press release from the Department of Health & Human Services loudly hails “Trump Administration Issues Rules Protecting the Conscience Rights of All Americans.” However, to position the stemming of women’s deserved access to birth control as a benefit to “all Americans” is entirely laughable in its falsehood. This policy shift, rather, represents a dismantling of the very things that women have fought for and rightly need.

This is a blatant act of political pandering at our expense. Trump is trying to appeal to the constituency that largely supported him in the 2016 election—socially conservative, evangelical voters—by validating the concern that birth control is morally dubious. In fact, the report for the regulations itself vaguely asserts that imposing birth control coverage could “affect risky sexual behavior in a negative way.” However, studies show access to birth control not only reduces unintended pregnancies, but also lowers the prevalence of “risky” sexual behavior. A Washington Post analysis of federally collected data adds that since the mandate took effect in 2012, teenagers have both scaled back their sexual activity yet increasingly have protected sex.

Even this discussion of birth control is deceptively limited because birth control is so much more than having safer sex. Oral contraceptives in particular possess a breadth of utility that extends beyond just sex (sorry, Rush Limbaugh!). The pill can also be prescribed for ailments like acne or menstrual pain—the latter of which can be so painful that it prevents women from carrying on with their daily lives. It can also be prescribed for conditions like endometriosis, a debilitating condition that affects millions of women nationally, and, left untreated, can cause crippling pain and in rare cases, death. Using national survey data, the Guttmacher Institute found that over half of pill users— 58 percent, to be exact—are using the pill for reasons other than pregnancy prevention.

Yet, despite its necessity, birth control is often uncomfortably expensive. Without insurance, the pill can cost up to $50 a month, totaling $600 per year, an IUD up to $1,000, a shot up to $100 per time, and an implant up to $800. An analysis by the Kaiser Foundation noted that after the implementation of birth control coverage through Obamacare, there was a significant drop in out-of-pocket spending by women on oral contraceptives. This mirrors the conclusions drawn by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania—namely, that under Obamacare, women collectively save an estimated $1.4 billion annually in out-of-pocket spending on oral contraceptives alone.

Given the impediments that women already face when it comes to our bodies, including the luxury tax imposed on essential products like tampons and pads, the Trump administration is truly doing more to hurt our livelihood. In drastically lessening its accessibility, the Trump administration is endangering our bodies—and our choice in what to do with them—in a twisted game of politics. And this scares me. It makes me worried for myself, for my friends, for other lives that could be immeasurably hurt by future policy decisions to come. With voices from the “Me Too” movement echoing across our social media feeds, women now, more than ever, are losing grip of their own bodily autonomy—and if the administration cares at all about us, they absolutely must do better.

Annie Geng is a second-year in the College.

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