There is a lot happening in women’s health care right now. The United Nations declared abortion to be a human right last week, and the Zika virus was declared an official public health emergency right around the same time. Here is where the two connect: since the Zika virus causes major birth defects, several Latin American countries advised women to abstain from pregnancy for anywhere from six months to two years.
The problem is, these countries have extraordinarily strict abortion laws, and often severely lack birth control access. With the rise of the Zika epidemic, families in these countries need these services now more than ever. The fact is, according to The Guardian, 95 percent of abortions in the region have been considered “unsafe.” This means that even in places like El Salvador where miscarriages can be considered murder, women are still getting abortions. But thanks to strict laws, the procedure is illegal, and they are getting subsequent diseases and infections right along with it.
The UN has begun pressuring countries plagued by the Zika virus to expand access to abortion and birth control. This makes me immeasurably happy for the women and families in these countries. This also reminds me of how beyond grateful I am that the United States is not plagued by the Zika epidemic, nor are we plagued by as strict abortion and birth control laws. We are, however, plagued by a recent war on Planned Parenthood, and that is not something I am willing to easily dismiss.
As if the current status of women’s health care in Latin America was not enough, according to USA TODAY, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave Americans a real gem last week when they released an infographic and a statement advising all fertile women to not drink any alcohol unless they are on birth control.
This is because of new information about fetal alcohol syndrome’s dangerous effects. Considering that around 50 percent of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, according to USA TODAY, around 3.3 million women of childbearing age are not on birth control and are consequently “at risk of exposing a developing fetus to alcohol.”
While I fully support that the CDC wants to minimize the chances of fetal alcohol syndrome, my first thought when I read this was, “What about the women who do not have access to birth control?”
I could not stop picturing all of the women of childbearing age running around with a condom in one hand and a vodka cranberry in the other. For many women, the CDC is targeting here, Planned Parenthood is the only option for free or low-cost birth control without insurance, and with complete confidentiality from their parents or partners.
This is why we need Planned Parenthood. A common argument against Planned Parenthood is to reroute the money to other community health centers. While other health centers can provide free birth control, most do not have the same confidentiality practices. Lack of confidentiality is detrimental for teenagers and students who are still dependent on their parents for insurance, but want to take responsibility for their bodies through safe sex.
People against Planned Parenthood argue that you can go see a private doctor, but private physicians will charge a co-pay even if you already have insurance, making it hard for people to go if money is an issue for them. Many will also automatically recommend the pill, rather than offering a consultation and a holistic overview of all options, many of which are significantly more effective than the pill.
And then, there is my personal biggie. For women without insurance, Planned Parenthood might be their only option. Due to the states that have not expanded Medicaid, people are still left uninsured. Those people still need care, and Planned Parenthood offers plans for nearly all of their services at no or low cost for uninsured patients.
Ultimately, Planned Parenthood is a big name that people know, trust and feel comfortable with. One in five women has used a Planned Parenthood service, according to Obamacare Facts, and the Los Angeles Times reported that an estimated 650,000 women in low-income areas would be without specialized women’s healthcare entirely if Planned Parenthood dissipated.
No other community health center replacement can offer this level of service, this amount of patient trust, this level of confidentiality, this rate of low-cost care for the uninsured or this significant of a presence in low-income urban areas.
Planned Parenthood has become more famous for abortion than anything else, which verges on hilarious, considering abortions only make up a small percentage of all services it performs. Plus, what really gets me is that Planned Parenthood’s access to birth control helps decrease abortion rates in the first place. According to a 2014 study discussed in Slate, long-lasting birth control methods help reduce abortion rates by an average of 75 percent.
Now, I have never tried to persuade anyone to support abortion. It is an intensely personal belief that is so often tied to spirituality, and absolutely everyone deserves to maintain their own opinion on the matter. At the end of the day, every single person arguing both pro-choice and pro-life have their hearts in the right place, and there is no easy answer. However, whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, it makes sense for everyone to be pro-contraception, as contraception supports believers on all sides.
I am not sure I can name a single organization that I feel more passionate about keeping in tact. As Americans, we are lucky. Most of us have access to free birth control, and abortion is an option for those who feel it is the right choice. People in other countries are not nearly so lucky. Planned Parenthood is a valuable and necessary organization, providing services that remain unmatched by any other resource. Let us not lose it.