Recently, we’ve been dismayed to see the polarizing commentary surrounding the topic of birth control. We wrote this letter to the editor, published by EBN this month:
It’s hard to comprehend the outrage over birth control coverage—especially if you’re a woman, like me, who grew up owing so much to the feminist movement that I could pretty much take it for granted. Birth control has been a fact of life for most women my age—and those of the past two generations. A given. A no-brainer. A non-issue. You’ve seen the statistics: 98% of women have used birth control of some kind, and 80% have used the pill.
And for me and all the women I know—married and unmarried—who use birth control, it doesn’t represent promiscuity. It represents the opportunity to control our futures, to be successful, to create a life our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations could have only dreamed of. (And, yes, a life that, thankfully, also includes sex.)
We all owe a lot to birth control. The ability of two generations of couples to plan for and choose when to have children has created unprecedented stability for families and economic opportunities for women. This monumental feat of the twentieth century gives women the freedom to accomplish their highest aspirations and fully contribute to the financial success and economic development of our families, communities, cities, and country.
The “controversy” over birth control is really about a deeply rooted discomfort with the advancement of women and the role we play in society. This is a discomfort with the very foundation of our modern society—the result of a revolution that cannot be unwound. So, let’s not veil this topic in talk of religious freedom or payer issues. Let’s be direct: we have a lot of conflicting views about the role of women, and we have a lot of work still left to do.
It is clear that discomfort with women as powerful contributors beyond the family—and their perhaps-yet-untapped potential—is a more influential force than we’re acknowledging. This is the force that blames “unwed mothers,” while rarely talking about absent fathers. The force that props up Sheryl Sandberg for leading one of the most successful start-ups in history, while simultaneously criticizing her for having so much help with her own children. The force that puts female politicians in the spotlight for their wardrobes and hairstyles, while ignoring their contributions. The force that tells girls that it is hard to be nice and well-liked and also successful and a leader. This is the force that makes it an easy distraction to talk about birth control when we should be talking about why the U.S. has such miserable representation of women in our highest political offices and the C-suites of our biggest corporations. Women now earn more than 60% of all college degrees but still make up only 17% of the Congress and Senate and less than 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
These are the issues we should be talking about, and these are the issues we should be addressing.
But back to the distraction-of-the-moment—birth control. As leaders in our organizations and communities, and benefits professionals especially, let’s focus on the very practical nature of birth control and its role in public health. We can all agree that health care—employer-sponsored or not—and public health are sometimes emotionally messy and morally challenging. Developing health care policies that must create the best outcomes for the majority is hard. But as an industry, we’ve tackled many in the past, and we will continue to face others in the future. We recently helped a client implement some very emotional changes to their autism benefits. And could we have imagined 10 years ago that we would be linking medical premiums to individuals’ cholesterol levels and BMI?
So, let us look at birth control in the same neutral, pragmatic, problem-solving way. Birth control provides, most importantly, the ability to plan for a family. It means waiting to have children until you can care for them and provide the best home. Or it may mean not having them at all.
What we too often forget is that the majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Sixty percent of working women make less than $30,000 a year. Sixty percent! That means the $50 or $100 for a birth control prescription is out of reach. And, for those living paycheck to paycheck, the need to plan their families is paramount—and can mean the difference between that family’s success or failure. Why shouldn’t we support free contraceptives if it helps children come into a more financially secure and welcoming life? A life of greater opportunity? Even with the prevalence of birth control, we have hundreds of thousands of children in foster care. More than one in five children live in poverty in the U.S. More than a quarter of children live away from their fathers. Clearly, as a country, we have some big work to do to help our children land in homes that are prepared for them—emotionally and financially.
So, let’s stop wasting our time and energy in a meaningless political debate that’s (quite intentionally) distracting us from the real issues we need to address. Let’s get to work on finding a way to make sure all families can care for their children. And that all children—all boys and all girls—come into a society that values them and their contributions and is giving them the best opportunity for futures bright with choice and possibility.