Happy Thanks, Birth Control Day!

By Erika Ramirez

Birth control is one of the greatest medical achievements of the twentieth century. It gave women control over their reproductive lives, but more than 50 years later it’s still a struggle for many women to gain regular and consistent access to it. Since the 1960s, contraceptive access has positively impacted the lives of many women. Women could now choose when and if they become pregnant. For some, that choice may depend on reaching educational goals, establishing a career, or anything else she may desire to see through prior to starting a family. If she chooses to embark on the journey of motherhood, she can plan with her family and physician based on her needs. We know when women are able to plan their pregnancies, we see healthier outcomes for mom and baby alike. Planned pregnancies reduce risk of prematurity, lead to earlier prenatal care, and provide less alcohol and tobacco exposure for the baby.[1] [2]

Here at the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition (TWHC), we spend a lot of time reading about and discussing contraceptive access. Our focus is on increasing access for low-income or under-insured women because we believe that women, regardless of their income, should be able to access preventative healthcare including the contraception of their choice. It’s why we work to stay abreast of the state budget, speak with stakeholders, keep up with changes to publicly-funded health programs, like Healthy Texas Women (HTW) and the Family Planning Program (FPP), and suggest improvements.

Birth control, mainly used to prevent a pregnancy, encompasses a variety of methods, medicines, and devices. It prevents fertilization, by making sure sperm and egg never meet.  Different methods achieve this in different ways, but one of the most popular continues to be the tried-and-true birth control pill. And contrary to a persistent myth, no birth control method can disrupt an already implanted pregnancy.

As technology’s progressed, we’ve seen more contraceptive methods enter the market. Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) and the Implant are the most effective – both 99 percent! – forms of birth control, allowing women to delay family planning for years at a time and removing any potential user error.

Unfortunately, in the last year, we’ve seen some of the major progress in improving access to birth control weakened. Since 1971, Title X – the only federal program dedicated to family planning clinical services – has funded clinics all over the country providing preventive healthcare services and contraception to women. Recently, the regulations governing Title X saw language changes that “opens the door to funding for Title X projects that refuse to offer a broad range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods.” This could reduce access to contraception for many women across the nation.

At the state level, Texas could stand to make more improvements when it comes to supporting access to all FDA-approved methods of contraception. A recent study showed that less than half of publicly insured Texas women were able to secure their preferred method of birth control and faced multiple barriers to accessing care.[3]

Whatever a woman’s choice, birth control allows her exactly that – choice. The Power to Decide and plan her life as she sees fit, whether pregnancy is a part of that plan or not. Access to preventive healthcare, including birth control, leads to healthier moms and babies. And access to birth control has historically improved young women’s higher education rates and increased their participation in the workforce.[4]

So, today on Thanks, Birth Control day we pause to reflect and commemorate the many improvements we’ve seen when it comes to birth control and birth control access. There’s still much work to be done. TWHC, and other organizations, will continue advocating to ensure that all Texas women have access to the preventive healthcare they need and the birth control method they desire.

[1] Zhu BP. Effect of interpregnancy interval on birth outcomes: findings from three recent US studies. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics 2005; 89(Supplement 1): S25-S33.

[2] Gipson JD, Koenig MA, Hindin MJ. The effects of unintended pregnancy on infant, child, and parental health: a review of the literature. Studies in Family Planning 2008; 39(1); 18-38.

[3] White, K. et al. “Texas Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Services Since the 2016 Statewide Reorganization of Women’s Health Programs.” Texas Policy Evaluation Project. The University of Texas at Austin. 2019.

[4] https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/B381_Contraception-Access_Final.pdf