Doctors dismayed over Supreme Court ruling restricting birth control access
Women’s health advocates discussed the potential health consequences of a Supreme Court decision to remand a case providing women with free contraception access back to a lower court.
The Supreme Court simultaneously ordered the lower court to lift an injunction that had allowed women to receive “preventive care and screenings” without “any cost sharing requirements” while the court mulled the evidence, according to the justices’ decision and reporting by NPR.
“This ruling means that anyone who works for an employer with strong religious beliefs, or claims to be such an employer, may not have their birth control covered,” Leslie Kantor, PhD, MPH, chair of the urban-global public health department at Rutgers School of Public Health, told Healio Primary Care. “This decision opens up the possibility that other kinds of health care could also be restricted by employers with strong religious beliefs.”
Kantor said other reports have suggested approximately a “few hundred thousand women” could be affected by Wednesday’s ruling.
“I am incredibly disappointed by the decision,” Katharine O’Connell White, MD, MPH, director of the fellowship in family planning at Boston Medical Center, told Healio Primary Care. “We know that 99% of sexually active women in the United States have at some point in their lives used contraception to prevent pregnancy. Because of this ruling, some employers may choose to not cover birth control. Many women are going to be shocked.”
The decision has health implications beyond preventing pregnancy, said Vanessa Barnabei, MD, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Jacobs School of Medicine at the University of Buffalo and member of the New York State Taskforce on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes.
“About half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned,” she said in an interview. “Some of these women who go onto to have their baby are at higher risk for maternal mortality in a country that already has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the industrialized world. “If we can prevent unplanned pregnancies in particular, in the long run, it's cheaper and it’s safer from a public health perspective.”
O’Connell White said that women who have planned pregnancies are often “much healthier. So are their babies, so are their families. From a public health perspective, this decision is clearly horrifying.”
Kantor pointed out that birth control has “many benefits beyond preventing unintended pregnancy,” including alleviating the pain of menstrual periods and endometriosis and clearing up acne.
The ACP and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Denying our patients unimpeded, affordable access to the care they need, including all safe and effective methods of contraception, will exacerbate health inequities in the United States,” Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, CEO of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement.
In separate remarks, ACP vowed to continue advocating for contraception access “in the interest of ensuring access to necessary health care services.”