In a hotly contested decision this week, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit employers can opt out of providing certain types of contraception coverage on religious grounds. Ostensibly, the holding is narrow: Only companies that the Court calls "closely held" can claim a sincerely held religious belief, and the case is meant only to apply to birth control, not other medical care that might conflict with an employer’s religion.
The legacy of the Court’s reasoning remains to be seen, but White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters that President Obama believes women “should make personal health care decisions for themselves, rather than their bosses deciding for them.”
But contraception extends well beyond a woman’s decision whether and when to conceive, and access to reliable family planning goes deeper than a woman’s personal wellbeing. It plays a pivotal role in the financial, physical and emotional health of children, and data suggest that effective contraception and positive social outcomes are mutually reinforcing. In the end, empowering women—regardless of socioeconomic status—with more options to control pregnancies has benefits for everyone.
According to a 2013 Guttmacher Institute review of more than 66 studies, spanning three decades, reliable contraception allows women to be better parents. Among the findings: couples who experience unintended pregnancy and unplanned childbirth are more likely to have depression and anxiety—while adults who plan their children tend to be happier. Relationships are more likely to dissolve after an unplanned birth than a planned one. And those who are unprepared to be parents are more likely to develop a poor relationship with their child.