I am about to begin my third year as a medical student in Washington, D.C. I am also a woman who has been on birth control for the past six years.
The decision to have children is one I have considered, but I know that it’s not for me, for now. In medical school, they teach us to have an open conversation about our patient’s sexual history, because it doesn’t matter what they do, it only matters that they do it safely and healthily. Even the church permits married couples to track the female’s cycle so that ovulation can be estimated. These attempts to schedule conception only reflect the valuable principle that children must be born into families that are prepared to raise those children responsibly. Right now, for me, a 24 year old single woman in a big city, I believe I am being responsible by practicing safe sex, minimizing the spread of disease, and not introducing any priorities higher than my medical education. I wouldn’t be able to afford to support a child anyway, considering my student debt is only growing.
Back when I was an undergraduate at Brown University, I facilitated Sexual Health Education sessions with teen moms in Providence, RI. As the Education Coordinator of the Hoya Clinic in SE Washington DC, I witnessed too many unexpected positive pregnancy test results delivered to young women living at the DC General Family Shelter. I have benefitted from reproductive health innovations like contraception and comprehensive sex education, but more importantly, I have seen where it can do American families the most good.
The fact is that unintended pregnancy rates are highest among poor and low-income women, women aged 18–24, cohabiting women and minority women. Poor women’s high rate of unintended pregnancy results in high rates of both abortions (52 per 1,000) and unplanned births (66 per 1,000). In 2006, poor women had an unintended birth rate six times as high as that of higher-income women.
I believe that a woman can make her own decisions about her body, her health, and her future. Healthy women who feel ready for and intend to have children are the start of a stable, loving family. Birth control has had the potential to make this happen for women everywhere since the 1960’s. Despite this, I still see young mothers in underserved urban areas like Providence and Washington DC who are working to complete their education, find a job, and attain stable housing, all while raising multiple young children who each need love, attention, food, toys, and a supportive, encouraging learning environment. Increasing the availability of birth control and highlighting the very real and unfavorable outcomes of unplanned pregnancies is another step towards strengthening America’s families.
In 10 states and the District of Columbia, at least 70% of births resulting from unintended pregnancies were paid for by public programs. Louisiana and Mississippi had the highest proportions, at 81% each. In seven states, public expenditures on births resulting from unintended pregnancies exeeded half a billion dollars. California and Texas spent the most, at around $1.3 billion each.
All Americans pay for unintended pregnancies, no matter where they stand on the issues of sex, birth control, and abortions. You can read more stats on unintended pregnancies here.
But is Birth Control part of the solution?
The fact is the two thirds of American women at risk of unintended pregnancy who practice contraception consistently and correctly account for only 5% of unintended pregnancies.
I fully support the administration’s decision to make birth control available to women under the Affordable Care Act. I hope we will soon see decreases in unintended pregnancy rates in the US that meet the standards of the resources we currently have available to us. Instead of vilifying birth control, we can maximize its utility by using it properly to combat a very real and very preventable problem.