Recently, the Institute of Medicine made a groundbreaking recommendation to the Department of Health and Human Services to make birth control free and to be covered as preventative care. While much of the news about IOM’s recommendation has garnered a positive response in the media and among reproductive health advocates and activists, there are still some things about the recommendation that can put Black women at a disadvantage.
The good news is that if contraceptives become free, more women of all races would have access to birth control, which means less unwanted pregnancies. Herein lies the rub—birth control would only be free to women who have health insurance.
According to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, nearly 20% of African-American women are uninsured (myself included) and there are still others who are underinsured. And with Black unemployment at 16%, the number of uninsured Black women is rising. This means that birth control will still come at a cost to many Black women, and sometimes a cost that many of us may not be able to afford. And while Planned Parenthood offers free or low-cost contraceptives, even that is threatened by a conservative Congress that seeks to eliminate funding protected by Title X (also known as the Family Planning Program).
What does this mean for Black women’s reproductive choice when things like free birth control are still tied to insurance? Perhaps it means advocating for free birth control regardless of insurance. Perhaps it means continuing the fight to keep Planned Parenthood’s funding protected under the law. And who can forget the billboards that proclaimed that the most dangerous place for a Black child is in the womb? While the IOM recommendation is a step in the right direction, more work needs to be done to make sure that every woman has access to contraceptives, and more options when it comes to reproductive choice.
Last summer marked the launch of No Wedding No Womb, a campaign bringing attention to the number of single parent homes and black children being born out of wedlock. The campaign sparked a lot of conversations about not only Black marriage rates but also about the way Black families are defined. There was plenty of back and forth between campaign supporters and those who felt that No Wedding No Womb sought to vilify single mothers and devalue the number of children who grow up to be well-adjusted adults despite of being raised without a father. The question remains: why is it that so many people in the Black blogosphere and beyond were so quick to rally behind a cause like No Wedding No Womb—regardless of what side of the debate they were on—and yet so few people in the Black community are talking about reproductive choice, especially when access to birth control lowers the amount of unwanted pregnancies in our community? Whether we realize it or not, Black women’s right to choose and access to birth control is being challenged, and it’s up to us to speak out and bring attention to this important discussion. There are still not enough conversations around reproductive justice for Black women in the media or even in our homes, our schools, or our places of worship.