Some politicians are still calling contraception a social evil. This is an astonishing claim in the 21st century when all the evidence is that contraception is key to a more successful economy and a better quality of life — not only for individual women and their families, but for us all.
Because contraception makes it possible to control the timing and spacing of pregnancy and childrearing, it gives both women and men a far greater opportunity to pursue education, have a career, and contribute to our economy. It makes it possible for them to care responsibly for children they already have, as well as for children they choose to have in the future. For women, the constitutional guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has little meaning without access to contraception, which is one of the most basic indicators of women’s rights and women’s health.
Indeed, there are so many health benefits from contraception — from the lower risk of endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, osteoporosis, and anemia offered by hormonal methods to the reduction in STDs offered by barrier methods — that only 42 percent of women for whom birth control is prescribed use it exclusively for contraceptive purposes. For children, parental access to contraception means a greater likelihood that their parents can provide for them so that they have better educational and employment outcomes, better emotional health, and perhaps most importantly, that they are wanted.
Socially, access to contraception means a greater degree of family stability, greatly reduced public health costs, lower abortion rates, and a much higher quality of life than would otherwise be possible. Birth control is also an important part of a more caring economy, which brings about a more successful and prosperous economy for us all. In short, the social and economic benefits of contraception are huge.
This is true not only for the people in our nation, but also for people the world over. As early as 1995, the study “Women, Men, and the Global Quality of Life” conducted by the Center for Partnership Studies compared statistical measures from 89 nations on the status of women with measures of quality of life such as infant mortality, human rights ratings, and environmental ratings. It found that in significant respects the status of women is a better predictor of quality of life than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And the measure that had the single highest correlation with quality of life was the prevalence of contraception.
Yet a small, vocal minority representing Catholic and fundamentalist religious institutions want to deny women insurance coverage for contraception on the grounds that it is “morally objectionable” because sex should only be for procreation. Strangely, they have no objection to insurance coverage for Viagra, which is prescribed for men almost exclusively for recreational sex. This is not only hypocritical; it is immoral in light of the enormous benefits of contraception for families and for nations.
We cannot let a religious and political minority dictate our future. Americans overwhelmingly support insurance coverage for contraception as a basic right. A recent CBS/New York Times poll showed that 66 percent of Americans support “a recent federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control for their female patients,” with only 26 percent opposed. Moreover, the poll found that Catholics support it (67-25), Republicans support it (50-44), and women support it (72-20).
In a democracy, the voice of its citizens must not be overridden, especially in matters that so directly affect health, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Morality and good sense demand that access to contraception be recognized as basic to individual and economic health and the well-being of our nation.
Riane Eisler is the best-selling author of “The Chalice and the Blade” and “The Real Wealth of Nations” and founder of the Center for Partnership Studies. Catherine Bohnsack is a mental health counselor and a doctoral candidate at the California Institute of Integral Studies.