On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned Texas’ HB 2, an anti-abortion law that would have forced abortion clinics to comply with strict, nonessential requirements in order to obtain an unnecessary operating credential. The Court ruled that this requirement presented an “undue burden” on those seeking abortions — a win for women across the United States. But while this decision to uphold the rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade is a moment to celebrate, the fight for fair and accessible women’s health care is far from over.
In Texas alone, over 20 abortion clinics have closed since 2012, leaving a mere 18 clinics open for business in the 268,830 mi2 state. These closures impact rural communities the most — the remaining clinics are clustered in major metropolises like Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Across the United States, 87 percent of counties do not have an identifiable abortion provider, and once again, women in rural communities suffer the brunt of this — 97 percent of non-metropolitan areas lack an abortion clinic. Even if women are able to make it to a clinic, the obstacles to safe abortion are numerous: there is a lack of hospitals and physicians trained in safe abortion practices; states continue to pass restrictive abortion laws; clinics, their workers, and their patients often face violence and threats; and Medicaid restrictions can put the cost of abortion procedures out of reach for many women.
The threats to women’s health care don’t stop with threats to abortion access; too often, contraception gets wrapped up the debate as well. It would seem like an obvious solution — in order to cut down on the number of abortions, increase access to birth control and comprehensive sex education. Unfortunately, time and political energy is wasted on promoting abstinence-only sex education and blocking access to birth control.
CREDIT: AP/J. Scott Applewhite.
Birth control is overwhelmingly agreed to be a safe and effective method of preventing unintended pregnancy. Additionally, women who use contraception are shown to have had healthier pregnancies when they do decide to have children and there are numerous economic benefits for women who are able to choose when and where they start their families. Leading medical groups, such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agree that birth control pills are safe and should be available as over-the-counter medication.
Today, some young women are finding access to birth control more open — with the help of Silicon Valley. A small but growing group of apps and websites are helping women gain access to affordable contraception, often without ever entering a doctor’s office. Prospective patients answer questions online or by video, are prescribed pills, patches, or rings, and receive their contraception via mail. The app Lemonaid charges $15 and sends a prescription to a local pharmacy after reviewing patients’ medical history, according to the New York Times. Websites Prjkt Ruby, Virtuwell, and Nurx offer similar services and Planned Parenthood has its own app that offers virtual doctor visits via video chat, as well as birth control prescriptions.
Even without apps, access to birth control is improving at the state level. California, Oregon, and Washington all passed laws that allow patients to access birth control without a prescription. Women can fill out a questionnaire with a pharmacist and receive pills, patches, injections, and vaginal rings. A number of other states, including South Carolina, Tennessee, and Missouri have proposed similar legislation. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would allow Washington state pharmacies to not dispense Plan B due to religious beliefs, reaffirming the right to emergency contraception. Online shopping fans can buy Plan B on Amazon — with free shipping if you’re a Prime subscriber.
The increased access to birth control can only mean good things for young people, especially those who live in rural communities and those who might face stigma from parents and medical providers. Sara, a 21-year-old student from California, told the New York Times that she is using the app Nurx after visiting a doctor when she was 15 and being told she was “too young” to be using contraception. Kristina, a 31-year-old mother of two from Pennsylvania, started using Lemonaid because she was unsure she could find a doctor willing to prescribe her birth control in her conservative town.
There are 61 million women in their childbearing years (age 15-44) in the United States. Women age 15-19 are at the highest risk of not using birth control and use of emergency contraception is highest among women age 20-24. These numbers show how crucial it is for young women to have easy and affordable access to contraception—education, access, and acceptance of birth control must rise among teenagers and emergency contraception must be kept accessible in order to allow young women as much freedom and choice as possible in their reproductive health. The Supreme Court’s decisions this week are key to ensuring women have access to the health care they need, though it’s clear that the fight is far from over.