Almost 70 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act’s mandated coverage of birth control, according to the findings of a nationwide survey published earlier this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The findings are similar to those of earlier surveys and come a few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether an employer can be exempt from providing their workers with health coverage for contraceptives if the employer objects to them on religious grounds.
The survey, which involved 2,124 adults from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., was conducted in November 2013 by a team of University of Michigan researchers. When asked if they believed that “all health plans in the United States should be required to include coverage” for “birth control medications,” 1,452 of the respondents (69 percent) agreed, while 436 (19 percent) disagreed. Another 197 (10 percent) were uncertain, and 39 (2 percent) refused to answer.
Support for the mandate was significantly higher among women, blacks, Hispanics and people with children under the age of 18 living in their households than among the general population. It was also higher among people who had health insurance, either private or public.
Neither education nor income affected support, however. The survey did not ask the respondents about their religious beliefs or political views.
Although the support in the survey for universal birth control coverage was strong, it was lower than that for the mandated coverage of other health-related services. Here are those findings:
- 85 percent of the respondents supported mandatory coverage of mammograms and colonoscopies
- 84 percent were in favor of mandatory coverage of recommended vaccinations
- 82 percent agreed with mandatory coverage of preventive screenings for diabetes and high blood pressure
- 77 percent backed mandatory coverage of mental health services
- 75 percent supported coverage of dental care, including routine check-ups
A small percentage of the respondents — 7.8 percent — supported mandatory coverage of all of the services except birth control. Among this group, were “a higher proportion of persons unlikely to use such coverage,” write the researchers who conducted the survey.
Indeed, 56 percent of the respondents in this group were men, 27 percent were over the age of 60, and 39 percent had no children under the age of 18 living in their homes.
The mandatory coverage of birth control has been one the most controversial requirements of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Some conservative politicians and pundits have charged that it has “turned sex into a government entitlement.” Others have claimed that no-cost contraception will encourage women to have sex with multiple partners and increase the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies and abortions.
A study published earlier this year by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found, however, that free contraception did not result in riskier sexual behavior. Nor did it increase the rate of sexually transmitted infections. And other studies have found that making contraception available at no cost to women actually reduces unintended pregnancies and abortions.
As women’s health advocates and other supporters of the mandatory coverage of birth control have long pointed out, access to affordable birth control is more about women’s health and economic opportunities than about sex.
“Since birth control became legal and widely available, women’s health has improved dramatically; the infant death rate has plummeted; and women have been able to invest in their education and careers,” wrote Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, in a recent MinnPost commentary.
It would seem from this survey that most Americans agree.