You can get your birth control free now — yes, you, really

"You get free birth control & you get free birth control," says Oprah

Hallelujah! As of Aug. 1, 2012, most private health insurance companies will have to start covering the full cost of FDA-approved contraceptives (the Pill, IUDs, implants, Plan B, etc.) and sterilizations. No co-pays, no deductibles. Insurers now really, truly, actually have to cover the full cost. This is a big deal for those of us who’ve been paying these costs out of pocket. Co-pays on the Pill have been costing many of us $10, $20, even $40 a month, year after year, decade after decade. And the up-front costs of long-term methods were costing $1000 or more, even under allegedly decent insurance plans. Tubal ligations could cost more still. But no longer. Thanks, Obamacare!

My big hope is not just that this will save a lot of women money, but that it will save a lot of women from poverty and heartache and lives they don’t want to be leading. Right now nearly 50 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Half! And, as AP reports, “Rates of unplanned pregnancies are far higher among low-income women than their wealthier counterparts.”

I wrote a post at Grist last month about how we need better family planning to fight poverty in the U.S., because early and unplanned motherhood leads lots of women into tough financial situations: “Imagine if it became normal for young women in America, when they become sexually active, to start using a long-acting form a contraception — an IUD (they’re making a comeback!) or a patch or a ring or a shot, something you don’t have to think about every day — until/unless they decide they want to have kids. (Yes, they should still use condoms too.)”

The most recent New York Times Magazine included a photograph that’s been haunting me, a perfect crystallization of how unintended pregnancy can trap women in a cycle of poverty:

Young woman with two babies

“Maranda Corley, 19, with her children in their bedroom in Ellisville, Miss. Corley, who got pregnant for the first time when she was 16, had twins that were born prematurely and with serious disabilities. Four months ago, she had a third child. Corley lives with her husband, her mother, her maternal grandparents, her brother and her aunt and her aunt’s three children.”

The new Obamacare requirements for private insurers won’t help women like Maranda. But if we can start changing the whole culture around contraception in this country, it could be a start.

In the meantime, I’ve made an appointment to get myself an IUD. As my hilarious colleague Jess put it, “I’m going to request that mine come straight out of Rick Santorum’s taxes. I’d ask for Mitt Romney’s, but, well, you know.”


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