Contraception Is Not Just a “Women’s Issue”

Contraception affects all of us who want to prevent unplanned motherhood, as well as unplanned fatherhood. So why are men not supporting contraception access?

Defending Contraception Access Under the ACA Is Not Just a "Women's Issue"
A Planned Parenthood Rally in New York City in February 2011. (Women’s eNews / Flickr)

I was caught off guard years ago when my kids asked me where babies come from and responded (poorly) that a man and a woman have a “special hug.” Now young adults, they will never never let me forget my awkward approach.

However you learned, we all know it takes two—yet we persist in making contraception legislation and abortion access “women’s issues.” 

They are not. 

The contraception coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act is under renewed threat with the looming Supreme Court case, California v. Texas, on Nov. 10. Seeking to invalidate the health care law is worrisome—if anything, we should invest more in helping couples plan childbearing.

As an obstetrician and gynecologist, I have been providing care for women for 28 years. It is my job to help my patients have healthy babies or help them prevent pregnancy if they choose. But as a country we don’t do this well: Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and close to half of these will end in abortion.

Unplanned pregnancies cause significant negative personal, social and economic impact for both the man and the woman, as well as society. Women who don’t plan to get pregnant are more likely to be in unstable relationships, suffer physical abuse, delay prenatal care or get an abortion, according to Brookings Institution researchers Emily Monea and Adam Thomas. More than 60 percent of pregnancies are concentrated among the young, unmarried and low-income—setting up a lifetime of struggle.

We’re spending $12 billion as a nation in costs associated with unplanned pregnancies when we can extend contraceptive coverage and decrease that expense. For the fiscally minded, this should matter because it is obvious. By embracing birth control coverage and reducing unplanned pregnancies, we can decrease crime rates, boost educational attainment and more women will be able to get back to work.

An estimated 99 percent of women will use some form of contraception during their lives. Women reading this know well they have spent time, money and managed side effects and sometimes painful procedures to prevent pregnancy.

Men reading this should realize they have equally benefited from these methods to prevent unplanned fatherhood, and should be grateful their partners made the effort to have every child be a wanted child.

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Since the above is true, it should also be true that any legislation about contraception—including access to all FDA-approved methods and insurance coverage—should be embraced by those who would benefit: the tens of millions of men and women who could make a baby.

So then why is this seen as a women’s issue? 

Why have arguments about insurance coverage for contraceptives focused on how they can be used for other things like pelvic pain—as though preventing pregnancy is not enough?

Why is a law student (not that it matters what she does) referred to as a “slut” when she advocates for contraception coverage?

I can say with near certainty the man who called her that has avoided unplanned fatherhood because a partner used contraception. 

Birth control is not a women’s issue like ovarian cancer, which will never affect the body of a man.

I have said this to a group of mostly male state legislators in my home state of Illinois. I also asked each of them to consider how many children they might have, and in what circumstances, if their partner had not made the effort needed to prevent pregnancy? It is crystal clear they were in this game, and there was visible squirming in the audience when I posed the question.  

Since one in four women in this country have had an abortion, some of these unplanned pregnancies end this way. So why are men not supporting contraception access? Unplanned fatherhood should be avoided as much as unplanned motherhood.

Some might say this remains a women’s issue because women’s bodies carry the pregnancy. Or that men can avoid claiming the baby as their own and walk away. But I believe men are generally more upstanding than that, and DNA testing proves paternity if they are not. 

Supporting birth control access through the ACA and every other legislative means is the best pro-life argument one can make because contraception reduces abortions and supports quality of life for all involved. We will do this because it affects all of us who want to prevent unplanned motherhood, as well as unplanned fatherhood.

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Dr. Maura Quinlan, a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project, is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.