Editor’s Note: Sandra Fluke is a third-year law student at Georgetown University Law Center and has served as president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice.
Sandra Fluke testified on the need for access to affordable, quality reproductive health care
Fluke: Slurs were attempts to drown out discussion and silence women's voices
Fluke inundated with messages of support for contraception as a basic health need
Taxpayers will not pay, she says; insurance policies are financed by workplace, workers
Last month, students from several Catholic universities gathered to send a message to the nation that contraception is basic health care. I was among them, and I was proud to share the stories of my friends at Georgetown Law who have suffered dire medical consequences because our student insurance does not cover contraception for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.
I joined these students in speaking at a media event because I believe that stories of how real women are affected are the most powerful argument for access to affordable, quality reproductive health care services.
I also joined these students because now is a critical time to raise this issue in our public consciousness.
Thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, preventive care services, including contraception, will be covered by private insurance plans without co-pays or deductibles. If appropriately implemented, this important law will finally guarantee women access to contraception, regardless of the religious affiliation of their workplace or school.
By now, many have heard the stories I wanted to share thanks to the congressional leaders and members of the media who have supported me and millions of women in speaking out.
Because we spoke so loudly, opponents of reproductive health access demonized and smeared me and others on the public airwaves. These smears are obvious attempts to distract from meaningful policy discussions and to silence women’s voices regarding their own health care.
These attempts to silence women and the men who support them have clearly failed. I know this because I have received so many messages of support from across the country – women and men speaking out because they agree that contraception needs to be treated as a basic health care service.
Who are these supporters?
They are women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, who need contraception to prevent cysts from growing on their ovaries, which if unaddressed can lead to infertility and deadly ovarian cancer. They are sexual assault victims, who need contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
They are Catholic women, who see no conflict between their social justice-based faith and family planning. They are new moms, whose doctors fear that another pregnancy too soon could jeopardize the mother’s health and the potential child’s health too. They are mothers and grandmothers who remember all too well what it was like to be called names decades ago, when they were fighting for a job, for health care benefits, for equality.
They are husbands, partners, boyfriends and male friends who know that without access to contraception, the women they care about can face unfair obstacles to participating in public life. And yes, they are young women of all income levels, races, classes and ethnicities who need access to contraception to control their reproduction, pursue their education and career goals and prevent unintended pregnancy. And they will not be silenced.
These women know how expensive birth control pills can be, with or without insurance coverage. For a single mother with kids, a woman making minimum wage, or a student living on loans, a high monthly co-pay could be the difference between buying contraception or one week of groceries.
And imagine the financial burden of unplanned pregnancy and raising a child. For women without insurance coverage or with insurance that doesn’t cover contraception, the costs create a significant financial burden.
Many women cannot medically use the least expensive types of contraception. As a result, many women, especially those 18 to 34 who have the most trouble affording contraception, simply go without. They face any number of medical risks as well as unintended pregnancy – all of which damage their productivity and the health of their families.
Most recently, certain political commentators have started spreading misinformation about the underlying government regulation we are discussing. To be clear, through programs such as Medicaid, the government already does and should fund contraception coverage for the poorest women in our country.
But, despite the misinformation being spread, the regulation under discussion has absolutely nothing to do with government funding: It is all about the insurance policies provided by private employers and universities that are financed by individual workers, students and their families – not taxpayers.
I am talking about women who, despite paying their own premiums, cannot obtain coverage of contraception on their private insurance, even when their employer or university contributes nothing to that insurance.
Restricting access to such a basic health care service, which 99% of sexually experienced American women have used and 62% of American women are using right now, is out of touch with public sentiment. In fact, more than 60% of Americans support this regulation and affordable access to contraception, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Attacking me and women who use contraception by calling us prostitutes and worse cannot silence us.
I am proud to stand with the millions of women and men who recognize that our government should legislate according to the reality of our lives – not for ideology.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sandra Fluke.