Dr. Tracey Wilkinson speaking at a Planned Parenthood rally.
As a doctor, when I enter the exam room my only concern should be how I can get and keep my patients healthy.
As a pediatrician, I am there to give my patients the best start possible from infancy to their transition to adulthood. For some of them, that means prescribing birth control.
But the administration of President Donald Trump has put an elephant in my exam room. I now must wonder who employs my patients’ parents and whether those employers believe in birth control.
When the Obama administration put in place a rule in 2011 that all employers must offer insurance that covers birth control without a copay, it was because they deemed birth control coverage to be part of preventive health care. Under the birth control mandate, it didn’t matter what kind of birth control my patients needed or why. It would be covered, no matter what. Sixty-two million women have benefited from this rule. Having access to birth control means that women are able to plan their families, go to school and stay in school, and build careers. They’re able to focus on taking care of the children and families they already have. They’re building their lives on their own terms.
The Trump administration has now started unraveling that rule, by giving any employer with a religious or “moral” objection permission to ignore the mandate and the needs of the women who work for them.
As a doctor in Indiana, I was devastated that one of the first employers to take advantage of the new rule was the University of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame’s actions are appalling not only because of the number of young women on campus (more than half of undergraduate students at U.S. colleges are women), but because at a center of learning, ideology should not trump science and evidence.
Thankfully, the insurance company that covers students and staff at Notre Dame, Aetna, said it will cover the cost of birth control. This decision was probably due to the fact that covering birth control is financially in their interests, given the known costs of unintended pregnancies. However, the danger remains that Notre Dame could change insurance companies in the future, setting students and employees back.
And Notre Dame’s decision to stop coverage for birth control begs the question: How many other colleges and universities will follow suit, putting ideology over the needs of their students?
How these institutions choose to act in the face of the new rule can alter the lives and the health of not only the young women who are launching their lives from these campuses, but also the health of entire communities. Many universities, like Notre Dame, are the major employers in college towns. University policy can shift health outcomes in these communities — including unintended pregnancy. To deny access to contraception at a time when the U.S. is at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy makes no sense.
A government policy that allows employers to impose their own views about contraception on their employees flies in the face of medical, legal, and ethical standards — not to mention the fact that birth control is not only used to prevent pregnancy. It is used to treat endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids, and irregular periods — all medical conditions that have nothing to do with whether you are sexually active or not. There are other women for whom a pregnancy would be life-threatening condition, and thus contraception is life-saving for them.
There are infinite reasons why more than 90 percent of women use birth control at some point in their lives. Every single reason is valid, and no employers or university administrators should have the power to take that away based on their moral objections.
If colleges and universities like Notre Dame care about giving the next generation of our country’s leaders the best chance for success, they will continue to make birth control available, accessible, and affordable for anyone who wants to use it.
And really, that should be their only concern.