Want to reduce unintended pregnancies? Give women more control of their health care, not less.
Want to reduce unintended pregnancies? Give women more control of their health care, not less. ballykdy/Shutterstock

Republican lawmakers say they want women to have fewer abortions. All over the country, they're supporting laws chipping away at a woman's constitutionally protected right to choose. Here in Washington, they're targeting low-income women, particularly those who've survived rape or incest, by trying to cut off Medicaid funding for almost all abortions.

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But that bill won't go anywhere in the Democratically controlled house this year. So, if Republicans here in Washington really want to do something about unintended pregnancies, here's another bill they could turn their attention to instead: House Bill 2465.

This bill (and its senate counterpart 6369) would require private insurance companies to cover a year's worth of birth control at once.

Currently, insurance providers are required to cover birth control, including the pill and longer-term methods like IUDs, but often only cover one month at a time, meaning many women have to go to the pharmacy every month. (Medicaid recipients in Washington have had access to 12 months of birth control since 2013, thanks to a budget proviso. These bills would codify that and extend it to private insurance.)

Both NARAL and Planned Parenthood are advocating for the bills. (Notably, teenagers lobbying for this policy last week were also asked about their virginity by a Republican representative.)

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington Executive Director Rachel Berkson said in a statement today that current rules allowing insurers to cover only one or a few months of birth control at a time are "paternalistic" and "condescending" and can "endanger women's health by limiting access to contraception."

Along with pro-choice advocates, anti-abortion politicians should consider supporting the bill, too. The relationship between birth control and reducing the total number of abortions is more complicated than you might expect. But there is one thing that we know: Contraception is less effective at preventing unintended pregnancies (and therefore preventing some abortions) when it's not used effectively, like when a woman skips a pill or several.

And guess what might make a woman skip a pill? Getting to the pharmacy every 30 days is a pain—particularly if you're working multiple jobs or live in a rural area where it's difficult to get to the pharmacy. Making it easier to actually get the pills (or patches or rings) will in turn make it easier for women to use them effectively, which will help prevent unplanned pregnancies and some abortions.

Annie Iriye, a gynecologist practicing in Olympia who's also part of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, told Washington's House Health Care and Wellness Committee at a hearing this morning that providing access to 12 months of contraception could "avert some 30 percent of unintended pregnancies in our state alone."

There are also the non-pregnancy reasons women take birth control. Laura Hamilton, a college student from Bellingham, testified at a house hearing today about how she was first prescribed contraceptive pills in high school because of a medical condition called endometriosis, which causes her to have excruciating cramps and threatens her fertility.

"I am now 21," she told the house committee this morning, "and have been taking birth control for seven years. That is 84 months, and 84 monthly trips [to] the pharmacy."

For a good portion of that time, Hamilton told the committee, she was involved in extra curricular activities and her mom was also attending school. That often made it difficult to get to the pharmacy, Hamilton said.

'All too often, we wouldn’t get to the pharmacy on time, and I would be back experiencing one of those awful and harmful periods," she told committee members. "This could have been avoided if I had access to 12 months of birth control at a time. My health wouldn’t depend on monthly pharmacy visits."

Some Republicans are getting the message. Both the house and senate versions of the bill have Republican co-sponsors. But only one name on the list of Republican co-sponsors in the house—Vancouver Rep. Paul Harris—overlaps with the anti-abortion crowd I wrote about last week. (In other words, the house's far right members want to make it harder for women to get abortions and harder for them to get birth control.)

There's still time for them to come around. A vote in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee is scheduled for Friday. Then, the bill will move on to the full house. Over in the Republican-controlled senate, a hearing hasn't yet been scheduled.

So, do you feel like writing some e-mails?

If you'd like to explain to the 23 house dickheads representatives behind that radical anti-abortion bill why they should support more birth control, their contact information is listed at the bottom of this story. (Again, the only one from that list who has signed on to the birth control bill is Rep. Paul Harris.)

You can also write Dan Kristiansen, the Snohomish Republican who's the current minority leader in the house and also hasn't signed on to this bill. He's at dan.kristiansen@leg.wa.gov.

For the senate, start with Randi Becker (R-Eatonville), who chairs the Senate Health Care Committee, at randi.becker@leg.wa.gov.

Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup) is the vice-chair of that committee. He's at bruce.dammeier@leg.wa.gov.

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Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville), the senate majority leader, is at mark.schoesler@leg.wa.gov.

None of them are co-sponsors of the birth control bill.

Urge house members to vote yes in committee and in a full floor vote. Tell senators to schedule a hearing for the bill and then get on board and vote yes. If you're looking for some help, here's a form letter from Seattlish about that house anti-abortion bill, which you could easily tweak and use for this.