A Panicked Quest for Birth Control

By Carolyn Witte, Co-Founder & CEO at Tia

In the aftermath of last week’s election, shock enveloped the nation. For many marginalized groups including immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folk, and women, this shock has tragically manifested into fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of violence. Fear of the unravelling of progressive policies that once-upon-a-time promised equality. Within a few hours of Donald Trump’s victory, the Canadian immigration website crashed, suicide hotlines began seeing a record number of calls from LGBTQ people, and women took to Twitter to share advice on how to get an IUD. According to Google Trends, searches for “birth control” increased 400% the day after the election, most popular in red states like West Virginia.

Google Search volume for the term “Birth Control” in the U.S. before and after the election

As a company whose mission is to give people agency in their healthcare, we at Tia feel an urgent need to arm women and all people with uteruses with factual information to make educated decisions about their reproductive health with confidence.

We believe that decisions such as whether to get an IUD or take birth control pills are highly personal and merit thought, not panic. What’s right for one person may not be right for another. Now more than ever, we are committed to helping people make informed choices that serve their individual healthcare needs.

In effort to put this birth control mania into context, we feel it’s important to start by stating the facts — what we know and what we don’t know — about the key women’s health issues at stake over the next four years.

#1: The future of the Affordable Care Act

What we know: The proportion of women who were uninsured declined by nearly 40% since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With more people covered, there are fewer uninsured patients visiting family planning centers — a win-win for women, clinics, and taxpayers alike (source).

What we don’t know: What Trump’s threat to “replace and repeal” the ACA really means, and how many people risk losing coverage. After meeting with President Obama last week, Trump said he would consider leaving in place certain parts of the ACA, a significant shift from his defiant campaign rhetoric.

#2: Access to affordable birth control

What we know: The ACA’s federal contraceptive coverage guarantee has resulted in a sharp decline in birth control costs, giving 55 million American women access to birth control without a copay. Today, 9 out of 10 insured women can now pay $0 for an IUD, a birth control device that can cost up to $1000 without insurance (source).

What we don’t know: What will happen to the ACA’s contraceptive coverage guarantee, and how this will affect the cost of birth control, particularly for highly effective, but more costly long-acting reversible forms of contraception like IUDs and implants.

#3: Funding for Planned Parenthood

What we know: Planned Parenthood receives the majority of their funding from Title X and Medicaid. Last year alone, Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.5 million patients and provided more than 4 million sexually transmitted tests and treatment, more than 360,000 breast exams, more than 270,000 Pap tests, and birth control for 2.1 million people (source). Without publicly funded contraceptive services, the U.S. rates of unintended pregnancy, unplanned birth and abortion would have each been 68% higher, and the teen pregnancy rate would have been 73% higher (source).

This September, President Obama took unilateral action to protect Title X grants by introducing a rule that forbids the withholding of Title X family planning money for any reason whatsoever other than a “provider’s ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner” (source).

Net-net: Republican states can no longer vote to defund Planned Parenthood just because some of its clinics offer abortion services.

What we don’t know: How much money Congress will appropriate to Title X over the next four years, and if and how Medicaid funds will be directed and distributed.

#4: The Supreme Court

What we know: Forty-three years after Roe vs. Wade, reproductive rights continued to be challenged in the Supreme Court. This past year alone, two significant reproductive healthcare cases were brought to the highest court in the country.

In Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, the Court ruled that Texas cannot place restrictions on the delivery of abortion services that create an “undue burden” for women seeking an abortion, setting an important precedent for other states imposing similar laws. In Zubik vs. Burwell, which questions whether religious institutions other than churches should be exempt from the ACA contraceptive mandate, the Supreme Court did not institute a ruling, but instead returned the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration, putting employer-based coverage for birth control at risk.

What we don’t know: Who will be nominated for the open seat left by Justice Scalia, how quickly the Senate will confirm the nominee, and the effect this new justice will have on historic reproductive rights cases like Roe vs. Wade.

In the face of such uncertainty, we at Tia are doubling-down on our effort to help people navigate the complex world of reproductive healthcare. We believe that with the right information, women can make independent and informed decisions about their own health better than anyone else.

We are expediting the launch of our first product, the Tia app for iPhone, to provide personalized, data-driven birth control recommendations and connect people with providers who can deliver quality, affordable care. Sign up here to get notified when our beta is released.

There’s a long road ahead to ensuring all people have access to quality reproductive healthcare, and we need your help. Here are three simple ways you can take action to further reproductive justice in your own life and communities:

  1. Be proactive about your reproductive health. Schedule that overdue birth control consultation, STI test, or Pap smear you’ve been putting off. Arm yourself and others with the information your need to make informed choices now in face of an uncertain future.
  2. Get involved on the local level. Support your city and state-level politicians advocating for inclusive healthcare policies. Donate to Planned Parenthood or your community health centers that serve at-risk populations disproportionately affected by this volatility.
  3. Educate yourself and others about your reproductive rights. Know the law, what you should and shouldn’t pay, and insist on the care that you rightfully deserve.

Together, we can battle the unknown and work towards a world in which choice is realized for all. A world in which all people everywhere are empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies, reproductive lives, and sexual health that they can confidently own. Join us.