Memo to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and the bosses at for-profit corporations who think they belong in every doctor’s office and that they should be able to decide whether their employees have access to birth control: Women who use birth control do not have an “overactive libido.” We are not looking for a handout from “Uncle Sugar” to score a contraceptive fix. We are not sluts. This is not the reality for women — it never has been and never will be.
In fact, women who use birth control are your mother, partner, sister, and daughter. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active American women have used birth control at some point in their lives. We are just regular people trying to take care of ourselves medically and financially. That’s why seven in ten Americans believe that health insurance companies should be required to cover the full cost of birth control, just as they do for other preventive services.
Yet former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stated yesterday that the Affordable Care Act’s provision guaranteeing women access to no-copay birth control was created because women are oversexed. He explained, in a speech at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting, that Democrats are doing women a disservice by telling them that “they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.”
This comes just months before the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in two cases challenging the birth control benefit, brought forward by the bosses of Hobby Lobby — an arts and crafts store chain — and Conestoga Wood Specialties – a cabinet manufacturer . They want the Supreme Court to decide that employers have the right to choose which medical procedures your insurance covers — based on the boss’s personal beliefs. A decision like that could take away from many the comprehensive insurance coverage that over 27 million women are already receiving under the law, and 47 million will eventually receive.
If the Supreme Court agrees with these employers, survivors of rape could effectively be charged a rape penalty in the emergency room because their insurance doesn’t cover emergency contraception, which is essentially a high dose of birth control.
It’s clear that opponents of comprehensive contraception coverage do not understand why women need affordable access to birth control.
Let’s stick to the facts. Birth control is not about libido. It’s a form of basic preventive health care. As I testified to members of Congress nearly two years ago, many women also need birth control for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy, including relief of painful menstrual cramps and endometriosis — a leading cause of infertility in women if left untreated.
The decision to include no-copay coverage of birth control in the Affordable Care Act was informed by years of medical research and the recommendation of the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine. Birth control is vitally important to women’s physical and mental health, since it enables them to plan their pregnancies and manage their lives, expanding their opportunities.
Access to birth control is not just a health issue; it’s an economic issue. When women can control their lives with birth control, they can help the economy. It allows them to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, and keep or get a job.
According to the Shriver Report, released last week by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, one-third of all American women are living at “the brink of poverty.” Forty-two million women, and the 28 million children who depend on them, are “living one single incident — a doctor’s bill, a late paycheck, or a broken-down car — away from economic ruin,” the report reveals.
Comprehensive insurance coverage that includes no-copay birth control supports these women, and all women, in their fight to keep their family financially stable. It allows them to plan out the timing and size of their family, and for many it eliminates costly health care procedures like surgery for ovarian cancer, which birth control helps prevent.
Offensive statements like Huckabee’s keep popping up because they aren’t slips of the tongue. They reflect a profound disrespect for women’s right to determine their own health care choices and their family’s economic future. Huckabee said yesterday that, “women across America have to stand up and say, ‘Enough of that nonsense.’” On that point, I couldn’t agree more. A woman and her doctor, not her boss or Washington politicians, should decide what health care choices are right for her.
Sandra Fluke is a Social Justice Attorney and women's rights activist. She wrote this piece in collaboration with Planned Parenthood.