This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As a constituent of Rep. Mia Love, I was thrilled to hear her announcement that, due to her pro-life principles, she has sponsored a bill to provide hormonal birth control over the counter. This is exactly the kind of common-sense approach needed to make meaningful change in the abortion rate in the United States. I am strongly in favor of keeping the government out of the exam room, but I think Love and I could share a common goal: zero abortions.
We can all agree that abortion is a complicated, heart-wrenching issue. The psychological and physical impacts can stay with women for their entire lives. To strive for a goal of zero nonmedically necessary abortions, let's start by asking, "What can we do so that no woman would ever have to make this decision?"
The abortion rate has been steadily declining since 1990, largely due to better access to contraception. However, the abortion rate has not fallen equally for all socioeconomic classes. Approximately 70 percent of abortions are undertaken by women living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This income group has the lowest access to and use of contraceptives.
While having birth-control pills available over the counter would certainly be a monumental first step, the pill is one of the least effective forms of prescription contraception, due to adherence issues. Increasing access to all contraceptive options, including long-term and nonhormonal options, would have a much greater impact on reducing the accidental pregnancy rate than the pill alone.
Even if all birth control became available over the counter, however, we still must teach people how to use and access it. Abstinence-only sex education does not work, and states that continued to use this failed method have consistently seen higher rates of teen pregnancy and lower contraception use than those that provided comprehensive sexual education. Contraception is an important piece of reducing accidental pregnancy, but education on how to use it is an essential companion.
Failed or unused contraception, however, is only one reason women may choose to terminate a pregnancy. A 2013 study found that approximately 40 percent of women who chose abortion believed they could not support a child. Closing the gender wage gap and, more significant, increasing the minimum wage could significantly shift this decision for many women, especially poor women, facing the impossible choice of ending a pregnancy or birthing a child they cannot support.
Love's proposal for over-the-counter birth control is an important first step, but I hope other steps will follow. There will always be medically necessary abortions, but many are decisions borne out of complex, yet solvable problems. A future where every pregnancy is intentional and greeted with joy, rather than anxiety, is good for all women regardless of political affiliation.
Shelby Cate will graduate this spring with an MBA from the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.