Sisters, listen up. The healthcare law, passed by Congress earlier this year, could mean a huge benefit for women: free contraception.

Few things have revolutionized family planning and given women control over their reproductive capabilities like the pill. This month, an expert panel will meet to consider what types of preventative care for women can be covered under the new law. Contraception is just one of many items on the table.

For women who take the pill, or other forms of contraception like IUDs, the new healthcare law gives them control over more than just having babies, it can help improve, and even save, their lives.

In an interview with “The Associated Press,” Dr. David Grimes, an international family planning expert, argued, “There is clear and incontrovertible evidence that family planning saves lives and improves health.” Dr. Grimes, who teaches at the University of North Carolina, said, “Contraception rivals immunization in dollars saved for every dollar invested. Spacing out children allows for optimal pregnancies and optimal child rearing. Contraception is a prototype of preventive medicine.”

The benefits of free contraception are not enough for those who oppose it. While most religious organizations have stayed out of the debate so far, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have gone on record as opposing the labeling of contraception or sterilization as preventive care.

“We don’t consider it to be health care, but a lifestyle choice,” said John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, a Philadelphia think tank whose work reflects church teachings. “We think there are other ways to avoid having children than by ingesting chemicals paid for by health insurance” (source).

With the unplanned pregnancy rate hovering around 50%, giving women access to contraception could potentially lower that number. Of course, women will also need to be taught how to properly use such contraception, since “inconsistent or incorrect use” is one of the major reasons for unplanned births.

Stay tuned. The Department of Health and Human Services has until August 2011 to make its final decision about offering free birth control for all.

What do you think? Should birth control be offered for free?

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