The War on Birth Control You Haven’t Heard About

Photo of a birth control pill and the blister pack

There has been a lot of attention given lately to political attacks on affordable sexual and reproductive health care. 

Most recently, the Trump/Pence administration forced Planned Parenthood out of Title X, the nation’s only dedicated program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care for people with low-incomes. The move affects more than 14,000 Iowans who relied on Title X services at Planned Parenthood health centers.

Here in Iowa, we are all too familiar with these political attacks on reproductive health care. In 2017, the Republican-controlled state legislature cut Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers out of a program that provides Iowans with birth control, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and breast exams. 

Public attention has largely been focused on these funding attacks at the state a federal level. But, in the meantime, another war has quietly been waged on women’s health care in Iowa: access to birth control is being dismantled by the Catholic church.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Dubuque Archbishop recently doubled down on their efforts to ensure Catholic hospitals operate in accordance with Catholic religious rules. The rules prohibit abortion in Catholic facilities, and the restrictions go further by banning hormonal birth control and sterilization to prevent pregnancy even if a woman’s life is in danger. 

Their efforts have also resulted in gag rules that keep medical professionals working at Catholic hospitals from giving patients the information they need to make fully-informed decisions about their reproductive health, whether it is pregnancy prevention, tubal litigation or abortion. In fact, the Catholic church has yet to publicly announce or educate patients about its crackdown.

Not all Catholics agree with the church’s religious rules regarding reproductive health care, and the church’s policies aren’t aligned with the views of most Americans. Recent polling has shown a majority of Americans, Catholics included, support reproductive health and abortion services. 

In Iowa, the consequences of are far-reaching. Three years ago, the ACLU released a report calling out Iowa as one of only 10 states where more than 30 percent or more of hospitals are affiliated with the Catholic church. Only two states—Nebraska and Wisconsin—have a higher percentage than Iowa. And more than 42 percent of all Iowa hospital beds are in Catholic hospitals. In some cases, these are the only hospitals for at least 45 miles around.

In a state where access to birth control is already dire, this means the sole health care provider in many communities won’t prescribe patients the most effective forms of birth control, which are hormonal and long-acting devices. And when a person in a Catholic hospital has a c-section birth and needs or wants a tubal litigation, they are forced to undergo a medically-unnecessary second surgery elsewhere because of the hospital’s religious directives. 

As someone who has birthed two babies, I cannot fathom being forced to undergo an unnecessary postpartum surgery. I find the very notion to be unethical and immoral. And doctors agree, calling it “the highest level of malpractice … because we have a high respect for the potential danger and complications of surgery.” 

These attacks on reproductive health care can’t continue. Hospitals must be held to the highest standards of ethical care. That includes not imposing religious beliefs on patients and withholding the services and information that are critical to their health, especially when these hospitals are the only health care provider for miles. 

These are deeply personal issues that are harming the health of Iowans. We are looking at a health care crisis created by politics and religion. Can’t we all agree that politics and religion should not restrict health care for Iowans?

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