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Soto: Rollback of birth control mandate will make college students less safe, less healthy

Isabella Soto, Columnist

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Let me begin this column by establishing a fundamental truth. Hormonal birth control, in its various forms, is simply that — hormones. It can aid in preventing a pregnancy, reduce painful cramps caused by menstruation and help in clearing up acne, but at the end of the day, hormonal birth control is just that: hormones. And though it has proven to do so much more than prevent an egg from fertilizing inside a person’s body, access to hormonal contraception is once again being attacked by the highest office in the country.

Last week, the Trump administration moved to roll back the birth control mandate established during former President Barack Obama’s tenure, which requires that employers include birth control in their employees’ health insurance. The only exceptions were for houses of worship, but under President Donald Trump’s actions, employers, insurers, schools and other entities will be able to opt out. Over 62 million women have contraception coverage because of the mandate. Seventeen million Latina women and 15 million black Americans depend on contraception without a copay. And its repeal now means hundreds of thousands of people could lose their coverage, potentially including Northwestern students. On a college campus, where people are still figuring out who they are, access to birth control is essential to maintaining autonomy. These mandates stand to make college students across the country less safe and less healthy.

A 2011 study from the University of Michigan shows when female students don’t have contraception covered under their insurance, they are more likely to use unreliable methods of contraception. And while it’s not only female-identifying people who use hormonal contraceptives, the study proves a point: if hormonal contraceptives are not accessible or affordable, less reliable methods, which can put a person and their partners at risk, are used. In January 2016, I wrote a column on the diversion of funds from Planned Parenthood — a massive provider of low-cost birth control for college students — and how we, as students who have the comfort of subsidized resources on campus, should use this privilege to advocate for all people to have the same kind of access. The rollback of this mandate, should any university or employer choose to quit providing coverage, would all but eliminate this comfort. It’s disheartening that we yet again find ourselves fighting to keep reproductive health resources accessible for all.

Having access to hormonal contraception isn’t a necessary marker that a person is having sex and has the ability to get pregnant. That’s one of its many functions. Serious diseases that affect people with uteruses and ovaries, such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome, often rely on hormonal contraception to mitigate or alleviate the symptoms of their chronic illness. People who have cystic and persistent acne often cite hormonal birth control as their holy grail answer to clearing up their skin. People who menstruate irregularly or who have volatile cycles use it to keep track of their cycles and continue their everyday lives when their period arrives. These are all things that college students across the country, including Northwestern students, deal with in some way, shape or form.

The Trump administration claims the mandate was rolled back to relieve institutions of the “substantial burden” of providing contraception against their moral or religious wishes. But what about the substantial burden of chronic pain? Of an unintended pregnancy? For some students, birth control is a way to have agency of their lives and their bodies. The substantial burden, at the end of the day, lands on the people who rely on workplace-provided contraceptives to live a day-to-day life. But hey, at least they haven’t removed male contraception from the mandate.

Isabella Soto is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at isabellasoto2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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