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Opinion

August 4, 2011

Policy on birth control a welcome addition

For those of you just tuning in, or who weren't around in 1960, it was quite a year.

- John F. Kennedy was elected president in a controversial election over Richard Nixon.

- The Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 reconnaissance airplane over its airspace and captured pilot Francis Gary Powers.

- Black students staged a sit-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., the first of many against segregation at Southern establishments.

- The Soviet Union launched two dogs into orbit and returned them safely to Earth.

- The first "Teflon" non-sticking cookware appeared in stores.

- The first study linking cigarette smoking to heart disease was released.

And, oh yeah, the U.S. Food and Drug administration approved the sale of birth control pills, giving women more control over their bodies and stirring optimism that unintended pregnancies would be a thing of the past.

However, it didn't quite turn out that way. Studies show that nearly half of the 6.4 million U.S. pregnancies each year are unplanned.

A study released in May from the nonprofit Brookings Institution estimated that unintended pregnancies cost federal and state governments more than $11 billion a year. The study's authors said preventing those pregnancies would save between $4.7 billion and $6.2 billion.

So, we were very happy to hear the Obama administration announce on Monday that insurance companies will be required to provide birth control services to women with no co-pays beginning Aug. 1, 2012.

"For women's health, this is historic _ a really important turning point," said Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women's Law Center.

The Guttmacher Institute, an independent research organization, reports that 95 percent of women who have unintended pregnancies use contraception only occasionally or not at all, mostly because they can't afford it.

For a woman in a challenging financial situation, even with insurance, a $40 or $50 co-pay can be impossible. Under the new policy, insurers will have to provide contraceptive services, breast-feeding support and supplies, domestic violence screening and counseling, regular "well woman" visits, counseling about HIV and sexually transmitted infections, screening for gestational diabetes and other preventive services without a co-pay.

Exceptions will be made for religious organizations, but some religious and conservative groups are not happy, and the insurance industry has already begun to squawk.

But the new policy makes a lot of sense to us _ for the taxpayers and _ more importantly _ for improving women's health.

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