The new federal requirement that private health insurance cover the cost of birth control has generated much heated controversy these last few weeks: Congressional hearings, proposed legislation to unwind it, multiple legal actions.
But the rash of recent misogynistic attacks—from Rush Limbaugh’s verbal assault on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s sweeping dismissal of women’s rights—has taken the public debate to shocking, demeaning extremes.
But as much as opponents of choice and reproductive rights would like you to believe otherwise, government action to expand access to affordable contraception is neither novel nor radical—and it is by no means an attack on religious freedom, as a number of governments around the world can attest.
Take Spain, for example. Few countries are as Catholic as is Spain. Nearly 75 percent of all Spaniards identify themselves as Catholic (in the U.S., just one in four citizens are Catholic). And yet Spain shows a far more advanced understanding and practical tolerance of contraception and how it fits into today’s society:
- All women covered under the country’s National Health System pay reduced rates for contraception because the government subsidizes it.
- All pharmacies are required to dispense emergency contraception—without a prescription and without restriction to age.
Spain is not alone in recognizing the ways contraception can improve women’s status and enhance the country’s overall well-being. The majority of countries in the European Union aim to make birth control affordable and information about birth control readily available. Germany, Romania, and United Kingdom provide particularly good examples. And representatives from several E.U. countries will meet this month in the European Parliament-along with leaders from the Center for Reproductive Rights—in an attempt to create greater consensus on contraception issues and discuss the multiple public health and human rights benefits that subsidization of contraceptives brings.
The primary message of the meeting will be that a woman’s ability to control her own fertility is essential to her health, her empowerment, and her equality in society, and it is a government’s responsibility to ensure access to the full range of family planning services so that women can make free and informed decisions.
Contraception empowers women. It prevents millions of unintended pregnancies and saves billions of taxpayer dollars every year. It should be a step forward that we can all rally around—not a lightning rod for controversy.