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Opinion: The pill literally changed everything for women


By Elisa Maser

The month of May brings around my birthday and mother’s day. What better time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the approval of the birth control pill by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960? (I’m not quite 50, but the pill is.) Even as golden anniversaries go, this is a big one. The pill literally changed everything for women.

June, on the other hand, brings us “the pill kills” day from the anti-choice American Life League. This event ignores the fact that 99 percent of American women will use some form of contraception during their lives. Guttmacher Institute, Facts in Brief: Contraceptive Use

The pill’s 50th anniversary (and the out of touch response) should spark action to ensure that every woman who wants to can have the benefits of the pill and other forms of birth control.

It may be difficult to appreciate today, but “the pill“ is a lot more than just a pill — it is a pathway for women to seek higher education, enter the work force and to plan the timing and spacing of their children. For so many women, it has not only meant a better life for them and their families, it has literally saved their lives. In the past 50 years, the percentage of women who have died as a result of pregnancy dropped by half. At the same time, the number of infant deaths has dropped threefold. The number of unplanned pregnancies is down although too many still occur. As access to contraception has gone up, the rate of abortion has dropped.

Here in Nevada, this is particularly evident from the women who are Planned Parenthood clients. For decades, the doctors and nurses at the Planned Parenthood health centers in Reno and Las Vegas have been offering trusted and reliable information to women so they can pick a form of birth control that meets their particular needs. Nationwide, one in four women has sought health care from Planned Parenthood at least once in her life.

We all know women who are successfully balancing family lives with satisfying careers because they get to decide for themselves the right time to have children. It would be easy for someone who did not witness the changes experienced by American women and families in the decades following the approval of the pill to take for granted that women are now able to have both families and careers.

But as we celebrate the pill’s golden anniversary, we must remember that many women in the U.S. still do not have access to affordable, effective birth control. In fact, the work of Planned Parenthood in Nevada and other affiliates across the country remains just as critical now as it was in the 1950s.

In America in 2010, half of all pregnancies are still unplanned, and the rate is highest among teens. Nevada has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Affordable contraception is one of the most crucial investments we can make for women, so they can realize their hopes for themselves and their families when it comes to family life, career, education and so much more.

Recent studies show that over 149,000 women in Nevada can not afford to consistently buy birth control. Fortunately, the recently passed federal health care reform law allows us to help all women have access to contraception, so long as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services covers quality contraception as part of the law’s expansion of preventive care.

Birth control is basic, mainstream health care for women.  A recent poll conducted by Planned Parenthood showed that eight out of 10 women (79 percent) consider the birth control pill preventive health care, just like other preventive measures, such as vaccines and medication for blood pressure and cholesterol.  Seven out of 10 men (68 percent) agreed that the birth control pill is preventive health care.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the pill is still the No. 1 contraceptive for American women, but it’s even more popular in other countries, according to the first government report comparing nations.

For those who remember what it was like before the pill was approved, this is an anniversary that inspires rededication to a simple goal — helping women plan their family lives. Our daughters, sisters, coworkers and friends need us to not simply be satisfied with the progress we have made over the past 50 years. They need us to engage in the effort to bring affordable contraception to all women — so that they, in turn, can help make the 100th anniversary of the pill even more momentous.

To make your voice heard, please visit. www.plannedparenthoodaction.org.

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Elisa Maser is the President & CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, the lobbying and election arm of Planned Parenthood in Nevada. You can contact her at [email protected] and learn more about our work at www.NevadaAdvocates.org

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