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It’s a matter of women’s health

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department made a monumental decision this summer when it declared that health insurance companies must provide no-cost birth control and other preventive services to women starting in August 2012.According to Planned Parenthood, “More than 38 million American women currently use birth control, and nearly all [98 percent] sexually active American women have used birth control at some time in their lives.”As of the announcement of this important decision, however, the majority of insurance policies do not cover the cost of this basic health-care need. Without such support, birth control pills can cost women anywhere from $15 to $50 monthly, while intrauterine devices and other methods can run into the hundreds of dollars.In addition to paying for birth control, these new guidelines will provide for free preventive services including screening for gestational diabetes, human papillomavirus testing from women 30 and older, sexually transmitted infection counseling, breastfeeding support and domestic violence counseling.These services are basic health-care necessities for women in today’s world, and as such should be covered by health insurers. It’s the women who can least afford this type of comprehensive reproductive health care who often need it most.To those who argue this type of care should not be readily available to women because contraceptives are akin to abortion or because they are not approved by the religious right — reality states otherwise. The bottom line is that women should have the right to decide what to do with their own bodies — not the government, not the church. Women should be the ones choosing if they want to bear children, when they want to bear children and how many children they want to bear. Yes, these decisions should be made with their partners, but those choices should not be forced upon a woman by making birth control so expensive it remains out of her reach. Unwanted pregnancies can lead to dire consequences: unwanted children, despair, poverty, abuse, dangerous medical procedures and even death. With the current global population at roughly 7 billion, and that number growing by about 80 million each year, the issue of overpopulation is a serious one. Anyone willing to make the responsible, although admittedly difficult, decision not to reproduce should be encouraged and supported — and given every bit of assistance to meet that goal. That includes free access to birth control.According to one report, nearly half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, the result of which is that nearly 40 percent of those wind up in abortions. Birth control could help prevent many of those abortions.According to a statement made by Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood, “Covering birth control without co-pays is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancy and keep women and children healthy.”She’s right. Thankfully those in the Obama administration saw the need and made the change. This ruling is an important step forward in establishing safe, free and accessible reproductive care for all American women. That’s something everyone should celebrate — men included — because it will serve to benefit women everywhere, including their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.

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