Fifty years, and we're still fighting for access to birth control

By Mary Nolan of Portland, Oregon. Mary is a former state legislator and is the interim executive director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.

June 7 marks the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court decision that provided the first constitutional protection for birth control and paved the way for the nearly unanimous acceptance of contraception that now exists in this country.

Many of the gains women have made over the past 50 years — not only in family planning but also in obtaining higher education and achieving a bigger and more influential role in the workforce — are the direct result of the Griswold case.

But we still have a ways to go to make sure that every woman – no matter where she lives, who she works for or how much money she makes – can get the birth control that works best for her. We’re fighting to protect the Affordable Care Act, specifically the benefit that provides more than 55 million women with no-copay birth control. We’re not sure we can count on this Congress or this SCOTUS.

That’s why Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon introduced House Bill 3343, which would provide access for women to receive a full 12-month supply of contraception at one time. Currently, insurance companies only reimburse for 30 to 90 days of contraception despite overwhelming evidence that dispensing a full year’s supply of contraceptives at a clinical visit is associated with fewer repeat visits, greater contraceptive continuation and a dramatic reduction in the odds of unintended pregnancy.

Thanks to the leadership of Representatives Jessica Vega Pederson, Jennifer Williamson, Alissa Keny-Guyer and Barbara Smith Warner along with Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson, the bill passed the House of Representatives on April 30, and was adopted by the Senate Health Care Committee unanimously on May 27.

With this bill, Oregon will lead the nation – once again – in improving women’s health results and reducing the cost of health care. This is the most significant leap forward for reducing unintended pregnancies in a generation.

In the words of Dr. Diana Greene Foster of the University of California at San Francisco:

“Women need to have contraceptives on hand so their use is as automatic as using safety devices in cars. Providing one cycle of oral contraceptives at a time is similar to asking people to visit a clinic or pharmacy to renew their seatbelts each month.”

Dr. Foster led a study that shows the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion decrease significantly when women receive a one-year supply of oral contraceptives. Researchers observed a 30% reduction in the odds of pregnancy and a 46% decrease in the odds of an abortion in women given a one-year supply of birth control.

Making contraception more accessible also saves money: If the 65,000 women in the analysis who received either one or three packs of pills at a time had experienced the same pregnancy and abortion rates as women who received a one-year supply, almost 1,300 pregnancies and 300 abortions would have been averted. By preventing just one unintended pregnancy, an insurer will save a minimum of $17,400. That is enough savings to pay for 29 additional years of contraception.

Not only have numerous studies shown the benefits of 12-month dispensing, but it also reduces barriers for women all over Oregon. Rural Oregonians often have long distances to travel and cannot make it to the pharmacy on a monthly basis. Others may not have a confidential mailbox where they feel safe having their birth control delivered. Whatever the reason, we believe there should be no barriers to consistent and effective birth control use.

It has been a long journey for women’s health and the right to control one’s own reproductive healthcare decisions. Generations of women in Oregon and around the country have been empowered to succeed since 1965’s Griswold decision, and we pledge to continue advocating for legislation to ensure women’s reproductive healthcare needs are met.

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