By Nicole Clegg
Today, women make up the majority of college undergrads. Women earn half of all medical degrees, half of all law degrees and half of all doctoral degrees. Women-owned businesses are the fastest growing segment of new businesses in the United States and, since 1965, the gender pay gap has decreased from 40 cents to 12 cents to the dollar.
These achievements can all be traced back to one day: June 7, 1965. On this day, the Supreme Court legalized birth control in its Griswold v. Connecticut decision. The landmark case provided the first constitutional protection for birth control and paved the way for the nearly unanimous acceptance of contraception that now exists in our country. It also made possible many of women’s economic and educational gains.
Thanks to birth control, six times as many women complete four or more years of college. Thanks to birth control, the number of women in skilled careers has increased 30 percent. And one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 1960s are the result of birth control.
It’s easy to see why Bloomberg Businessweek recently listed contraception as one of the most transformational developments in the business sector in the last 85 years, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named family planning, including access to modern contraception, one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Birth control is truly a wonder drug. Yet despite its cultural impact and importance, more than half of pregnancies in the United States are still unintended and unintended pregnancy is associated with a number of serious public health consequences, including delayed access to prenatal care, increased likelihood of alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, low birth weight and child abuse and neglect.
If birth control has been available for half a century why are there still so many unplanned pregnancies?
One word: cost.
While the Affordable Care Act now requires health insurance companies to provide birth control with no co-pay, this is only helpful for women who have private health insurance.
Both Title X and Medicaid provide family planning funding for low-income women, but funding has not kept up with demand.
Fortunately the Legislature is considering a bill, LD 319, “An Act To Strengthen the Economic Stability of Qualified Maine Citizens by Expanding Coverage of Reproductive Health Care and Family Services,” which would increase access to family planning services for low-income adults.
Low-income women are more than five times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy as their more affluent counterparts. This is why two-thirds of births from unintended pregnancies are paid for by public health insurance plans such as Medicaid.
In fact, in one year alone, births from unintended pregnancies cost Maine taxpayers nearly $15 million just for the health care costs; include the federal match and this number jumps to $58 million.
LD 319 will save us money. Every dollar invested in women’s preventive health care, such as birth control, saves Maine taxpayers $4 by reducing the number of and costs associated with unintended pregnancies. First-year savings are estimated to be nearly $100,000 and by year three, we could save between $1.9 million and $3.3 million.
LD 319 empowers women to space their children and make the best decisions about when and if to start a family. Conservative estimates find that LD 319 will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in Maine by 320 the first year and 1,060 in three years, and as a result the number of abortions will continue to fall by several hundred.
Reproductive health and access to affordable health care is an essential part of women’s economic security and opportunity. A 2012 report from the Guttmacher Institute confirmed that women use contraception to better achieve their life goals, with the majority of participants reporting that contraception has had a significant impact on their lives, allowing them to take better care of themselves or their families (63 percent), support themselves financially (56 percent), complete their education (51 percent) or keep or get a job (50 percent).
By improving access to birth control, we will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, help women achieve economic security and save taxpayers money.
LD 319 is our best option to achieve these goals and there could be no more fitting tribute to the importance of Griswold v. Connecticut than passing LD 319 as we mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark case.
Nicole Clegg is vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.