For the 99 percent of U.S. women of reproductive age who rely on, or have relied on, birth control to function in their lives, we know that this critical component of health care is not optional.
In Vermont, the unemployment rate is the fourth-lowest in the country. Among women, it is just 2.9 percent, compared to men at 3.2 percent. Women now participate in the workforce in numbers nearly equal to men.
For the women who rely on birth control to support themselves and their families, or for women who rely on birth control to complete their education and pave the way to their future, we know that birth control is an essential, necessary part of day-to-day life.
The Vermont Legislature understands this. Act 120 of the 2016 Vermont Legislature created requirements to eliminate cost sharing for birth control, including vasectomies. This law recognizes the essential nature of birth control to participating equally in modern society.
Today, the U.S. is at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancies among teenagers. That is due, in large part, to increased access to highly effective contraceptive methods.
A new bill in the Vermont Legislature will take a step further in ensuring access to birth control. H.869, if passed, would require health insurance companies to pay for over-the-counter birth control.
This is important because the FDA is in the process of reviewing an application that would permit a progestin-only birth control pill to be available over the counter. But if steps are not taken, once the pill is available over the counter, many women who rely on this form of birth control will suddenly have to pay out of pocket. We know that some will simply not be able to pay for their birth control, or will not be able to buy it before an unwanted pregnancy happens.
Attacks on women’s health care from the Trump-Pence administration and the U.S. Congress are real and relentless. Among other things, they have:
• Issued a rule allowing employers to deny birth control coverage to their employees.
• Ended protections for sexual assault survivors.
• Tried to eliminate the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.
• Tried to block women from getting care at Planned Parenthood.
• Appointed officials who don’t believe women should use birth control to oversee our nation’s program dedicated to affordable birth control and reproductive health care.
Women’s access to basic and essential contraception is in imminent danger. A federal family planning program called Title X has been around since 1970 and has had broad bipartisan support year after year. It is dedicated to birth control access.
Title X is responsible for helping 4 billion U.S. women obtain basic family planning services such as birth control, cancer screenings, STI screening and treatment, and well woman exams. In fact, it is the only federal program dedicated to birth control access.
The Trump administration has issued new goals and scoring criteria for this program that radically shift the program’s priorities and skew competitive applications away from evidence-based medicine and toward the rhythm method and abstinence.
We have known for a very long time that abstinence-only education has proven to be ineffective for preventing pregnancy. And the rhythm method doesn’t even work in the land of wishful thinking.
The over-the-counter access to birth control bill in the Vermont Legislature is just one small thing the state can do to stand up for women’s right to this most fundamental piece of health care, and push back on these anti-science, misogynist attacks. You can help by reaching out to your local Vermont House representatives and senators and ask them to pass H.869 this year, because access to birth control can’t wait.
Lucy Leriche, a former state legislator from Hardwick, is vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.