Today is National Birth Control Day and we should not only celebrate advances in birth control options, but also push for the expansion of access. In this post-Roe landscape, birth control pills should be available via pharmacies and over the counter.
We have come a long way. In 1960, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first hormonal birth control pill. However, birth control was originally only available for married couples. It wasn’t until March 22, 1972, that the Supreme Court legalized birth control for everybody in Eisenstadt v. Baird. And for the past 50 years, birth control has expanded to a variety of hormonal options. Women use contraception not only to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, but also to reduce menstrual cramps, treat medical conditions and control acne.
And, yet, contraception is not readily available to the masses. In fact, research has found that one-third of adult U.S. women experience major obstacles in procuring birth control. Lack of health insurance, limited nearby providers and language barriers are just some of the reasons.
For example, in FFRF’s home state of Wisconsin, nearly 20 percent of Wisconsinites live in a rural area, but less than 10 percent of physicians practice in such portions of the state. Furthermore, one-third of hospitals in the Badger State are Catholic-run and do not provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.
Beyond these impediments, the Religious Right has organized against birth control — and as a result it is not available in many health insurance plans. For instance, in 2014, the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruled that employers can block access to birth control on health insurance plans for religious reasons. In 2020, the ultraconservative Supreme Court further decided in Little Sisters v . Pennsylvania that religious institutions do not have to provide a waiver in which their employees could receive birth control from a third-party insurer.
We must advocate for accessible contraception for all. Birth control pills are 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy when taken consistently every day. However, barriers to access are one reason why people use birth control inconsistently. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) calls for birth control pills to be available over the counter without age restrictions and at an affordable price point. Researchers at the University of Washington recently found that access to free birth control significantly reduces unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
And while over the counter is the ultimate goal, ACOG acknowledges that in the meantime, pharmacy-provided contraception may be an intermediate step. Most people live much closer to pharmacies than to a physician. For example, in Wisconsin 89 percent of people live within a 10-minute drive of a pharmacy and 99.7 percent of people live within a 30-minute drive. Furthermore, a national survey found that 85 percent of pharmacists would feel comfortable prescribing hormonal contraception.
The only organized opposition to birth control is the Religious Right. As secular activists, we must call on our legislators to expand its access. With abortion bans rampantly rising, we need to use our secular voices to champion for basic health care — including contraception — for all.