Family Planning in the Time of Coronavirus
It’s been said before, but these are certainly unprecedented times. As I write I’m hunkered down in my DC apartment, teleworking and lucky to have a roof over my head, a steady salary, health insurance, and a full fridge (plus toilet paper I bought before I knew just how popular it would be!). I have internet access and a primary care doctor who responds to email. I have a good book and lots of shows to binge watch. I have the ingredients to bake chocolate chip cookies! And, I have my birth control.
I am incredibly lucky. But as the media and local, state, and national officials remind us often these days, not everyone is so lucky. Some people must go to work because their job is deemed essential—shout out to the health care providers putting their lives on the line to care for us, the delivery folks bringing us necessary items, and the woman who sold me my groceries last week! Others have lost jobs because of the closure of most of our country’s service industry. Still more cannot work because they must stay home to take care of children as schools around the nation have closed. Some people are without a home to shelter in. For many of these people hit hard by the economic impacts of this pandemic, difficult choices are being forced on them. What bills should they pay now, and which ones can they forgo?
Amid the serious health and economic consequences of the spread of the novel coronavirus are the tough decisions those struggling to make ends meet must make when it comes to their reproductive well-being, only exacerbated by the current situation. Already, more than 19 million women with low incomes live in contraceptive deserts, counties where they lack reasonable access to a health center offering the full range of contraceptive methods. These women already struggle to afford care, depending heavily on a safety net beleaguered by an onslaught of attacks—the Title X gag rule, attacks on Medicaid family planning care, and efforts to undermine the ACA’s no co-pay contraception rule (thankfully no co-pay birth control is still in place for now but its fate lies with the Supreme Court).
People already struggling to make ends meet now have another barrier to the care they need to achieve their reproductive well-being, coronavirus. There are still many unknowns about this new deadly virus—but we know that social distancing both helps and is having a devastating impact on many people. Access to birth control, like many other necessities, can be much more difficult than it already is. What if you rely on public transportation to get to a clinic and it’s not safe to use public transportation? What if the providers that normally staff that clinic are either sick or must care for others and cannot be there to provide family planning care? What if you cannot secure child care in order to make your appointment? And with lost wages, what if you cannot afford your care or any of these related expenses?
Family planning clinics across the nation are still open and most people can call before coming in to make sure the care they need is available. Telemedicine can help too (check out information on deliver to your door services available in different communities) and if we are fortunate enough not to face barriers to birth control access ourselves, we can help others who do. Please join me and donate to BCBenefits, our Contraceptive Access Fund that helps people struggling with barriers to contraception to get the care they need. Urge your members of Congress to block the harmful gag rule and reverse its impacts. Finally, remember that we will get through this if we look after one another and the needs of our neighbors.