Happy Birthday To The Pill
May 9, 2005 - 10:23am ET
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It was truly a day that changed the world: When the FDA approved the first birth control pill on May 9, 1960, women for the first time had safe, extremely reliable birth control within their reach. Unlike many other forms of contraception, which required their partner's cooperation, the pill gave women the ability to make their own reproductive decisions without fear or coercion. But 45 years later, a generation of women who have taken the pill for granted are waking up to find things may soon change.
By now, you've probably heard about the trend of pharmacists refusing to fill women's prescriptions for birth control pills (or the emergency contraceptive pill) based on religious beliefs or "conscience." (If you need some quick background, check out Carole Joffe's recent piece for TomPaine.com) While 98 percent of American women use some form of contraception, and 82 percent have used the pill at some point in their lives, Christian fundamentalists still seem to think this is a battle worth fighting.
It's tough to overestimate the impact the pill has had on America: It's prevented literally millions of unintended pregnancies. It's easy to use and has few risks. It reduces women's chances of getting certain cancers, including ovarian and uterine. But there are still too many barriers to access both in the United States and abroad, and pharmacists' refusal clauses are only the most recent. The Bush administration's global gag rule, for example, prevents any U.S. family planning money from being used to provide the pill and other contraceptives if abortion is even mentioned at a the clinic—tying the hands of health care workers trying to decrease maternal mortality in developing countries. Closer to home, the pill—-at $20 to $35 a month— is too expensive for many working women who don't have health insurance—and many health care plans still don't cover the pill, despite the fact that 80 percent of Americans think contraceptives should be included in all health insurance plans, according to a study done by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
But here's a chance to at least make a start in improving contraception access: Recently, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D.-N.Y., Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., and other pro-choice members of Congress introduced the Access To Legal Pharmaceuticals Act, or ALPhA. More than 20 states have laws or are considering laws that put pharmacists' ideologies before the duty to provide women with their physician-prescribed contraceptives. ALPhA would require that all pharmacies fill all legal prescriptions, even if another pharmacist has to be called in to do it. NARAL's action network is circulating an e-mail letter to urge your legislators to support ALPhA—take action here .
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