Since 1995, over one thousand state laws aimed at limiting access to reproductive health services have been adopted in the United States. Over the course of the last few years alone, Donald Trump and his administration have engaged in an unparalleled effort to undermine vital health care services for millions of Americans. With his domestic “gag rule,” the Trump Administration has been successful in preventing women and the LGBTQIA+ community from learning about their healthcare options, all while slashing Title X federal funding and thereby the nation’s family planning network’s capacity by half.
In more recent months, however, both family planning services and those in need of reproductive health care have faced a whole new set of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the onset of the U.S. outbreak, young women and women of color were the first to lose their jobs due to local and state-wide shutdowns. It is estimated that between March and May of 2020 alone, over 27 million individuals lost their health insurance, causing many to turn to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid to cover their needs.
A recent report by Guttmacher Institute shows an exponential growth in folks seeking reproductive care from publicly funded family planning services, with the general number of patients jumping from 8.2 million to 9.9 million. The graph also shows a 54 percent increase in those who are uninsured, a 23 percent increase in those that are using Medicaid, and a 16 percent decrease in those with employer sponsored insurance. With affordable family planning services seeing an influx of patients, they have faced a number of new financial and logistical pressures. This, coupled with the fact that family planning services have already been weakened by years of anti-reproductive rights policies, has the potential to stretch reproductive health services, resources, and staff too thin.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession is also having an immense impact on access to birth control and contraception, hitting Black, Indigenous, and Latinx women, as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the hardest. A survey published by the National Women’s Law Center found that one in three women have experienced a delay of contraception or other reproductive healthcare over the course of the pandemic. This rate is especially high for Black, Latina, and queer women, who experienced a delay or cancellation in contraception at a rate of 38 percent, 45 percent, and 46 percent, respectively. Over a quarter of individuals have reported that they worried about being able to afford their contraception due to the pandemic.
The same National Women’s Law Center report shows that 60 percent of all patients who receive their contraceptive care from publicly funded family planning service report that as their only source of medical care, which is crucial to consider when we think about our discussions around access to reproductive justice. What anti-choice groups, and even pro-choice activists who come from a place of privilege, neglect to recognize is the vast span of services family planning centers provide. Many of these clinics provide breast cancer screenings, STD testing, routine physical exams and pap smears, thyroid and diabetes testing, and many more types of preventative care. Plus, they have the ability to diagnose and treat a number of extremely common reproductive disorders like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Endometriosis, the most common treatment for which is the birth control pill.
As we look at the impact COVID-19 and the recession continue to have on access to reproductive healthcare in congruence with ongoing attacks from anti-choice groups and politicians, as well as the imminent threat of conservative Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, it proves that now more than ever, we must mobilize for reproductive healthcare and all of the services family planning programs provide to women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Advocating for access to contraception, expansion of insurance coverage, and strengthening program funding and infrastructure is essential, but a great way to start is simply to educate oneself on the comprehensive care family planning services provide and include this in our activism on a day to day basis.
Guttmacher Institute: https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2020/08/covid-19-job-losses-threaten-insurance-coverage-and-access-reproductive-health-care?utm_source=Guttmacher+Email+Alerts&utm_campaign=e4d4b0e7af-HA+Blog+Insurance+Loss&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9ac83dc920-e4d4b0e7af-260729941
National Women’s Law Center: https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/NWLCIssueBrief_BCandCOVID-19.pdf
Blog by Aliza Pelto, NOW Communications Intern