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Former Arkansas Governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee sparked outrage across the country this week for his offensive remarks about women and birth control. But the real problem isn't what he says -- it's what he and too many other politicians believe, and it's the policies they would advance if they have the chance.
In a speech to the Republican National Committee, Huckabee said that it was wrong to give women access to no-co-pay birth control under the Affordable Care Act -- that by doing so, women were being told "they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government." Of the thousands of types of medical care covered by insurance companies -- somehow he and a lot of other politicians have focused like a laser on birth control -- on taking coverage away from women.
Indeed, Huckabee's remarks were no "gaffe," as too many pundits have called them. This is a speech he's made before, and his remarks are a look inside the playbook of politicians who appear to have no idea how birth control works and why it's so important to millions of women as a basic, preventive health care. They ignore the fact that women use birth control for a whole host of medical reasons -- and that's their business, not Mike Huckabee's.
In Huckabee's vision, every boss in America would be empowered to decide whether his or her female employees should have access to birth control the way they do for any other prescription medication.
Huckabee is joining a battle being waged cross the country.
Over 40 for-profit companies have filed lawsuits against the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two of those cases in March. If the court rules in favor of the for-profit companies, employers for the first time ever could have the right to dictate to their employees the type of health care they may have access to.
Meanwhile, 20 state legislatures have moved to exempt certain employers and insurers from allowing their employees access to birth control without a co-pay. In Kansas, pharmacists are allowed to refuse to fill a prescription for birth control if they have a moral objection -- even if there's no other pharmacist in the area that a woman can go to instead. And while the states are individually waging separate battles, on the national front the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment a few months ago to roll back the birth control benefit.
The politicians behind these moves disregard how important birth control is for women and families. It allows women to take control of their health and economic security and to take personal responsibility for their family planning decisions. Many women also need birth control for medical reasons. For example, it can help relieve painful menstrual cramps, and help avert infertility by addressing the symptoms of endometriosis.
Access to birth control is also an economic issue. Until now, the cost has been expensive, with many women paying an average of $600 a year -- but sometimes much more -- for contraceptive protection. The Affordable Care Act enables 27 million women to receive their prescription birth control without a co-pay. Birth control also allows women, who make up nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers, to remain in the labor force.
For a woman working for minimum wage at a retail store, or for tips at a restaurant, the birth control benefit is tremendously important. For many women, it means the difference between taking birth control regularly and not being able to -- between getting pregnant and not getting pregnant.
As we look toward the midterm elections later this year, it's increasingly clear that access to birth control will be on the ballot. Mike Huckabee's remarks this week underscore what's at stake -- and why women will not allow out-of-touch politicians to take us back to the 1950s.
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