A Grain Of Saul: The Biggest Myth About Birth Control (And How The New HHS Rules Promote It)

Goodbye, equitable women's health care. Hello, cop outs.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it will roll back the Obamacare contraceptive mandate that ensured health insurance covered birth control with no co-pay. The new rules being put in place allow many employers to bow out of covering birth control if they have moral objections to its coverage.

The announcement has once again sparked a divisive debate about birth control, and – yet again — the main talking points all have to do with sex.

That sex is at the center of the conversation is part of the reason employers can cite religious beliefs as a reason for not offering the insurance coverage in the first place. In reality, though, this rule is a blow to women's health care and will do little but hurt the 55 million women in the United States who currently receive birth control with zero out-of-pocket cost. 

And those women use birth control for a lot more than just pregnancy prevention.



For a long time, I wasn't aware of the diversity of reasons people use birth control. I saw it as an alternative to condoms or a second level of protection to getting pregnant, and I clearly wasn't alone. But the more I aged and the more I had open conversations with partners, friends and colleagues about birth control, the more I realized the variety of ways it increases women's quality of life.

Some girls start taking birth control in the earliest stages of puberty to help them battle things like intense acne. Some women use birth control to prevent particularly heavy or painful periods.  Some women use birth control to treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal imbalance that causes irregular periods or excess hair growth. Some women use birth control to lessen Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), which can cause mood swings, weight loss, and breast soreness. Some women who have beaten cancer are left with Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI), which is when ovaries don't make enough estrogen, oftentimes after radiation or chemotherapy. They use birth control to increase their levels of hormones.

Are we really so far gone that we're giving employers moral outs from post-chemotherapy care?

Birth control doesn't just help pick up the pieces after cancer, either. It can help lower the risk of ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, and endometrial cancer. Regulating periods can keep women from getting anemia.

And yes, some women take birth control to prevent pregnancy.

That seemed to be the focus of the administration's announcement, which included nods to religious employers' rights not to subsidize practices that go against their beliefs. They also noted that birth control can promote "risky sexual behavior" among teenagers and adults. 

The irony, of course, is that birth control does exactly the opposite: it creates a more responsible environment for having sex.

With the new directive, it seems all but certain that employers will start dropping coverage for birth control, and that's a travesty. Many women who use birth control for everything from dire medical needs to safe sex will have to start paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars out of pocket to maintain a quality of life and health their health insurance should entitle them to.

The truth is that birth control is fundamental part of many women's health care — regardless of why they've chosen to use it.

Perhaps if the men pushing these directives took the time to learn about birth control, they'd realize that.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Image Point Fr.

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