It’s been a bad couple of weeks for birth control and the people that use it.
Last week, the US Supreme Court upheld a company’s right to opt out of covering certain types of birth control under their group health-care plans. Although the Affordable Care Act includes Plan B, Ella (another emergency pill) and IUDs among the 20 FDA approved contraceptives that must be covered by health-care insurance, the court decided that some employers can exempt themselves because paying for these would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs that life begins at conception. Employees of these companies will have to pay for these items, potentially many hundreds of dollars in the case of an IUD, out of their own pockets.
The stand against contraception is confusing. A Centers for Disease Control survey from 2013 found that 99 percent of women who’ve had sex have used contraception. Four out of five of them have used birth control pills. Eleven percent of women have used an emergency contraceptive. Birth control is not the new and scandalous thing it was in the ’60s, and it’s discouraging that the companies that brought the complaint are not alone in their beliefs.
In the news last week was the story of a doctor at a walk-in clinic in Calgary who refuses to prescribe birth control pills. Earlier this year, a walk-in clinic in Ottawa informed their female patients that the doctor will not discuss any contraception methods other than natural family planning. He won’t even give a referral to a doctor who will. Both doctors stated that this was because of their personal religious values.
Some say that this is not a big deal. If a certain employer doesn’t want to pay for your birth control, pay for it yourself or work somewhere else. If a certain doctor doesn’t want to give you a birth-control prescription, go to another one. But the issue is bigger than the individual. The religious rights of a person, or corporation, should not extend to making decisions for other people, particularly in the public sphere. It’s within a doctor’s rights to believe that contraception is wrong for them personally, but it’s not within their rights to deny it to patients, whether they share beliefs or not.
If more and more doctors and employers follow this example, we will find ourselves with a serious access problem. Women who work for these “opt-out” companies may not have the ability to simply find another job and may not be able to afford their birth control. In Canada, it’s difficult to find a doctor in the first place. If more and more of them choose not to provide essential services based on their beliefs, the issue will become not only finding a doctor that can see you, but also finding one that provides the services you require.
In the 21st Century, we should expect to have more options to access affordable and reliable birth control, not fewer. V
Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.