Half a century later, we're still fighting for birth control access

June 1, 2014 

It has been a long journey for women's health and the right to control one's own reproductive health-care decisions -- and in many ways, the fight for protected access to contraception started in Connecticut in 1961.

Estelle Griswold, then the executive director of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, and medical director C. Lee Buxton, chair of the Yale University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology opened a birth control clinic in New Haven.

They were arrested and fined in violation of a Connecticut state law that prevented the use of any contraceptive drug or device.

Four years later, the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court's landmark decision in Griswold v. Connecticut protected access to birth control and laid the foundation for abortion rights and the right to privacy that is at the cornerstone of other advances for reproductive health and LGBT rights.

Many of the gains women have made since 1965 -- in family planning, and also in obtaining higher education, entering the workforce, and moving closer to pay equity -- are the direct results of the Griswold case.

Generations of women in Florida and around the country have been empowered to succeed.

It is demoralizing that 49 years after this landmark case, we're back at the Supreme Court fighting to protect access to birth control.

No control for bosses

Birth control access lies at the heart of two cases currently being considered by the Supreme Court -- brought by employers at two privately held corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, which want to be able to impose their personal beliefs on all of their employees. These bosses argue that they have a religious objection to birth control and should therefore be able to deny their employees this coverage.

True religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal health-care decisions, including whether and when to use prescription birth control based on one's own beliefs and what is best for one's health and family.

The Affordable Care Act only applies to what insurance plans cover. It does not force anyone to buy or use birth control, and the Supreme Court's ruling on this case, which we expect to happen this month, could have far-reaching unfortunate consequences for women and families.

A slippery slope

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the bosses, this case could create a slippery slope in which any corporation or boss could also refuse to cover immunizations or mental health care or HIV/AIDS treatment.

This case could even open the door for businesses to discriminate against employees and customers.

At Planned Parenthood, we firmly believe that birth control is basic health care and the decision to use birth control should be a woman's personal decision -- not her boss's.

We know first-hand how important it is for women to receive the method of birth control that works for them without hurdles or barriers.

The public overwhelmingly supports the birth control benefit; 27 million women are eligible for it already, and it has saved women $483 million in the last year alone.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, teen births are at the lowest ever reported, attributable in part to increased access to contraception.

So it's no surprise that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, support for the birth control benefit remains steady with nearly two-to-one margin support among the public.

We don't know how the Supreme Court will rule, but as the nation's leading women's health care provider and advocate, Planned Parenthood will continue our work to ensure that every woman -- no matter where she lives or who her boss is -- has access to the health care she needs and deserves.

Barbara Zdravecky, is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

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