By Bryce Covert (Forbes)
If someone asked you what the most controversial part of the Affordable Care Act is, what would you say? So-called “death panels”? The Medicaid expansion? Breast pumps?
If you guessed the requirement for insurance companies to cover contraception without co-payment, you’d win the jackpot. The Sunlight Foundation just analyzed public comments on federal regulations – the public’s most direct way to share input on a given bill or rule – and found that this mandate has by far received the most, clocking in at more than 147,000 comments. The runner up got a mere 4,600 in comparison. And while public comments can always be fan mail, in this case most of them opposed the contraception provision.
This news surfaces alongside some research on contraception that’s worth taking into consideration. It turns out that women’s access to contraception isn’t just about their desire to space or delay pregnancies. Contraception access has huge economic ramifications for their lives and for the rest of us. It’s something the haters might want to take into consideration.
The Guttmacher Institute just released a review of the research that’s been done on the impact of access to contraception on women’s lives. It’s not just a nice to have. It’s a need to have. That’s because the research confirms that women’s ability to control their fertility has huge educational and economic outcomes. Legal access to contraception is a significant factor in a larger number of women getting at least some college education and in more women pursing advanced degrees. Access to the pill has also been a “driving force behind significantly more women participating in the labor force, including jobs requiring advanced education and training,” Guttmacher reports. And it helps women stabilize their financial situations, increasing their earning power and decreasing the gender pay gap. On an emotional wellbeing level, it also helps them have more stable relationships with their partners and experience less depression and anxiety.
These are all incredibly important outcomes for the women themselves and our economy as a whole. More women in the workforce has increased GDP by 25 percent. On top of this, contraception also has an impact on women’s families. A new paper from the Brookings Institute finds that giving women access to contraception through federally financed family planning programs has big benefits for their children’s economic wellbeing. These programs lifted household income of the children born in communities that could access them by $1,146 a year in 1980 dollars. It also led to a big reduction in poverty: children living in these communities were 5 percent less likely to live in poverty and 15 percent less likely to live in a house that received welfare benefits. This is obviously incredibly important for the lives of these children. But we all see a benefit when fewer people grow up in poverty and fewer families have to turn to welfare to get by.
Women’s access to contraception isn’t a moral question. It’s an economic one. It’s something women need, and we all benefit when they’re able to access it without encountering financial barriers. The requirement that it be covered without a co-pay is a huge step forward for women and our economy. Too bad that’s not getting a fair hearing in the public comments.