Californians know birth control matters, must protect access

Illustration of birth control pills
Lily Callender/Staff

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It’s November, which means sweater weather, prepping for finals and gearing up for the holidays. Did you also know that it’s time to celebrate the many benefits of birth control? Nov. 13 was “Thanks, Birth Control Day,” a day when we can all highlight the many reasons that people use birth control, as well as the positive impacts that contraception has had on the trajectory of our lives and communities.

After all, many people in the United States use birth control. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 99% of U.S. women aged 15-44 who have had sexual intercourse have used some form of contraception, whether it be to prevent pregnancy or for other health reasons, such as regulating periods, controlling skin breakouts or relieving menstrual migraines. Birth control allows people to plan if and when they want to have children and to space the time between births to improve birth outcomes and maternal health.

The numbers also show what we know from our own experiences — birth control is super popular. Polling conducted by Essential Access Health and Lake Research Partners revealed that 9 out of 10 California voters support access to birth control across all regions, demographics and political affiliations.

So, it may not come as a surprise that California is a national leader when it comes to pushing the envelope to expand access to birth control for anyone who wants and needs it, regardless of age or ability to pay for it.

One way California has achieved this is by establishing the Family PACT program, through which low-income, uninsured and underinsured Californians can receive free and confidential birth control and sexual health services. You may associate birth control with a Democratic platform, but Family PACT was established in the mid-‘90s by a Republican governor. Family PACT currently serves more than 1.6 million people annually, regardless of their immigration status. To see if you can take advantage of Family PACT’s family planning and sexual health benefits, talk to your doctor and check out Family PACT online.

California’s bipartisan commitment to birth control isn’t new — it was one of the first states to require health insurance plans that cover prescriptions to also cover birth control, way before the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. In 1999, California passed the Women’s Contraception Equity Act, which required that all health insurance plans covering prescription drugs also cover contraception. It was one of the first laws of its kind in the country and predated the ACA’s federal contraceptive coverage mandate by 13 years. Once the ACA’s contraceptive mandate finally passed in 2012, California took it a step further by passing a new Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act, requiring that all California insurance plans cover all forms of birth control without a copay. This progressive policy leadership has long distinguished California, and we should continue to uphold this legacy.

California has expanded access to birth control in other ways, too. A law in 2017 made it so that Californians can get 12 months of birth control with a single prescription. This means that you can get a year’s supply of pills, patches and rings during a single visit. Studies show that dispensing 12 months of birth control at a single visit can reduce a person’s risk of unintended pregnancy by 30%.

Not only can you get a year’s supply of birth control in a single visit, but there’s also a lot you can do without any prescription at all. As of 2016, Californians can go to their pharmacists for birth control, even if you don’t have a prescription from your doctor. This means patients who live in rural areas or far from a health center can pick up their birth control at their local pharmacy without the extra step of a doctor visit. Not all California pharmacies offer these services, so ask your local pharmacy if they offer birth control without a prescription.

While California has done a lot of work to expand access, there are many who still face barriers to receiving contraceptive care. That’s why, this week and always, it’s important that we not only say “Thanks, birth control,” but to also share why it matters. Sharing a personalized graphic on why birth control matters to you can help destigmatize contraception for others and can reinforce how important birth control is.

Another way to recognize the importance of birth control is to get up to speed on the different methods available for you if or when you might need it. You can also visit a clinic near you to discuss your options and access the method that is right for you.

We can all be proud to live in a state that is a national leader in protecting, promoting and expanding access to birth control, but that doesn’t mean that Californians are safe from federal threats to access. Earlier this year, the Trump administration imposed new regulations on the Title X federal family planning program, which could delay access to preventive services such as birth control. To protect our rights to contraception, we must fight against the Trump administration’s actions. If you’d like to help protect birth control access, you can join a growing movement in California by signing up at Essential Access Health to get updates and action alerts.

Emma Hodson is the public affairs coordinator of Essential Access Health.