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Poll: 80% say women should be able to have sex for pleasure, not pregnancy

A new poll on public attitudes toward birth control finds that Americans are pretty progressive about it.

birth control Shutterstock

After President Trump was elected despite his famously misogynistic words and actions, many Americans worried that the country was going backward on gender issues. And since Trump has promised to appoint Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade, reproductive health specifically seems under attack.

But according to a new poll conducted by PerryUndem, a nonpartisan public opinion research firm in Washington, DC, the American public still holds remarkably progressive views on gender and health policy. (The poll was fielded March 2 through 6 and surveyed a representative sample of 1,094 registered voters nationwide.)

Eighty percent of voters believe that a woman should be able to have sex for pleasure without worrying about pregnancy. That’s about the same proportion of voters, 76 percent, who said men should be able to have sex for pleasure without worrying about pregnancy.

Strong majorities of voters say that access to affordable birth control is important for women’s rights, equality, and economic stability.

And majorities also oppose some of the Republican Party’s biggest priorities on women’s health — including defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting access to abortion, and banning federal tax dollars from paying for abortion.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has refused to promise that he wouldn’t roll back women’s health gains like the no-cost birth control benefit. But two-thirds of Americans want to keep that benefit in place.

This point is worth pausing on. One of America’s two major political parties is ideologically committed to policies on women’s health that most Americans don’t agree with at all.

And the effect of these policies will be to reduce access to women’s health care by making it either more expensive or less widely available.

Most voters say affordable birth control is important to women’s rights, and to the economy as a whole

Hormonal birth control has unquestionably had huge impacts on society since it was first marketed in 1960. It allowed women to delay marriage and childbearing and enter the workforce in larger numbers. That meant women had more choices about what to do with their lives, and it boosted the nation’s GDP in the process.

But the key word for the current debate on birth control is “affordable.”

Many Republicans and conservatives staunchly opposed the birth control benefit, which covers all 18 FDA-approved methods of birth control at no additional cost to women who have insurance.

Some had moral objections to birth control, or balked at the idea that they should have to ”pay for” a woman’s choice to have sex. Others worried about the effects of such a government mandate on the private market. And others — including Price — rejected the idea that women really need the benefit at all.

According to the new poll, however, most Americans see a wide range of benefits to women’s ability to access affordable birth control — for women, for their families, and for the economy as a whole.

PerryUndem

Black and Latino voters were somewhat more likely than non-Hispanic whites to make these connections: 71 percent of Latino voters and 67 percent of black voters, compared with 59 percent of white voters, said that birth control affects women’s opportunities to be financially stable. And while 65 percent of voters overall and 61 percent of white voters said birth control affects “women’s rights and freedoms as individuals,” 79 percent of Latino voters and 76 percent of black voters said the same.

However, only 37 percent of men said they had personally benefited from a partner’s access to affordable birth control.

One in three women say they can’t afford to pay more than $10 a month for birth control

This is the other reason “affordable” is the key word in the birth control debate: Theoretical “access” to contraception doesn’t mean much if women can’t actually afford it.

One-third of women of reproductive age told pollsters that if they or a loved one needed birth control today, they could pay no more than $10 for it out of pocket. Fourteen percent said they couldn’t afford to pay anything at all.

PerryUndem

This is a similar result to a 2010 survey conducted by Planned Parenthood, which found that a third of women struggled to afford their copays for birth control. Those copays ranged from $15 to $50.

This suggests that even more women would have trouble affording an IUD or implant, which can cost up to $1,000 upfront. But these longer-term methods are the most effective at preventing pregnancy — and drastically reduce teen pregnancy rates when they’re made affordable.

Price, then a representative, said in 2012 that “not one” woman actually had trouble affording birth control. The evidence suggests he’s very wrong about this — yet he’s the public official with the most power over what happens to the birth control mandate in the future.

Large majorities of voters oppose policies that restrict access to women’s health care or make it more expensive

PerryUndem

One of America’s two major political parties is ideologically committed to policies like defunding Planned Parenthood, banning abortion entirely, slashing Medicaid benefits, and repealing a health care law that has significantly expanded health benefits for women.

Most voters don’t agree with any of these priorities.

Three-quarters of Americans oppose defunding Planned Parenthood. Two-thirds want to keep the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit in place. Well over 80 percent want to keep the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, no-cost women’s preventive care, and the ban on charging women more for insurance.

What’s more, voters seem to associate these policy priorities with gender discrimination. When asked a hypothetical question about what would happen if men were the sex that could get pregnant instead of women, 75 percent of voters said they thought men in the new administration and in Congress would want to keep the birth control benefit instead of eliminate it.

Even the supposedly controversial issue of “taxpayer-funded abortions,” which Republicans have used to justify defunding Planned Parenthood, isn’t actually that controversial. A majority of voters (55 percent) oppose banning Medicaid from covering abortions at all — even though Medicaid has been banned from covering most abortions for 40 years due to the Hyde Amendment.

These findings from the PerryUndem poll track pretty closely with a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll on public attitudes toward women’s health care and Planned Parenthood.

It seems clear that the American public has much more progressive views on women’s health issues than does the Republican Party — or at least the policies that the party has chosen to make a priority these days.

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