Within the African American community, suspicion of contraception can be traced to eugenics and a need to control our sexuality. Yet despite the suspicion and distrust, African American women also understand the benefits of controlling our reproductive health. We know that increasing access to contraception in our community also increases high school graduation rates, earning potential, and the ability to live life on our own terms. For these reasons, as a representative of Alabama’s District 57, I am delighted to see our state increase access to all forms of contraception, allowing more people to have the contraception they need and deserve.
The Alabama Department of Public Health ensured its network of nearly 81 Title X family planning clinics were equipped to offer the full range of contraceptive methods. These clinics are part of a network that provide access to reproductive health-care services and information such as breast and cervical cancer screenings, STI testing, contraceptive care, and more. Regardless of economic background, these clinics offer life-saving services that make a difference in people’s lives.
Before the measures were put in place, nearly 324,000 women of reproductive age living below the poverty level in Alabama lived in contraceptive deserts—counties with no reasonable access to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. More specifically, out of the estimated nearly 324,000 women who lived in these deserts, approximately 166,080 lived in counties without a single clinic that offered the full range of contraceptive methods. For these people struggling to make ends meet, incurring transportation and child care costs and taking unpaid time from work make accessing contraception cost prohibitive.
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However, as a result of the measures by the health department, the number of women living in Alabama counties without a single clinic offering the full range of contraception decreased 91 percent, according to new data from Power to Decide. While these decreases are significant and Alabama deserves recognition for taking a proactive approach, there are still over 311,000 women who continue to lack reasonable access to contraception.
Fortunately, we don’t have to look far for ways to make contraception more accessible and affordable. Alabama could expand Medicaid to childless adults, which would help decrease the percentage of uninsured women, and by extension, give them contraceptive coverage. Our state could also allow pharmacists to prescribe contraception and require insurance to cover an extended supply of prescription contraceptives. Enacting these policies would help level the playing field in significant ways.
As we consider and review measures to increase access to contraception, let us all please remember some basic truths about contraception. For one, it has widespread support. Per the data, 99 percent of women who have ever had sex with men have used contraceptives at some point in their lives. In addition, the majority of adults (76 percent) believe that birth control is a basic part of women’s health care. Further, 86 percent of adults support access to all birth control methods, with broad support regardless of race, region, and political affiliation.
Contraception is basic health care that many people need to stay healthy. It is prescribed to treat a myriad of health issues such as migraines, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, irregular periods, and more. In fact, medical groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have called for the pill to be available over the counter without a prescription.
Our state has chosen to pass laws that restrict access to critical abortion care. These policies are dehumanizing and damaging to people’s reproductive health and make the need to increase access to all forms of contraception all the more urgent. At a time with increasing partisan divide, let us once and for all cast aside lies about contraception and stand up for the ability of all people in our state to control their reproductive health.