As the political debate about access to birth control rages on in the United States, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has hosted a summit to improve women’s access to birth control and other family planning services worldwide.
The goal of their campaign is to improve the health of women and their families by giving women access to a tool that can literally save their lives.
While birth control has recently been pilloried as a dangerous pill that provides women with access to sex free of consequences, the reality is that access to birth control provides a wide array of benefits to women. Healthy women have better mental health, and better mental health for women means a healthier society for everyone.
Birth control is a valuable tool for treating a variety of health conditions ranging from relatively minor to severe. Doctors frequently prescribe birth control to treat both PMS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a more serious form of PMS that can radically alter a woman’s mood and overall sense of well-being.
Birth control can help mitigate the symptoms of endometriosis. It is also implicated in reducing the risks of some forms of cancer. Fewer ovulatory cycles are associated with a lowered risk of both uterine and ovarian cancer, and women taking most forms of birth control do not ovulate.
When women feel better physically, they feel better emotionally as well. Good health is correlated with higher self-esteem and more resilience to stress.
Increased Gender Equality
The ability to control when and where a woman has children is strongly correlated with gender equality. Women who have control over their fertility are less likely to be trapped in abusive marriages by pregnancy. They are less likely to have the need to provide for children, and are more likely to be better able to control their working lives.
They are less likely to feel like their opportunities in life are limited by their sexual relationships with men. Countries with ready access to birth control and other family planning services have higher rates of gender equality. Men who are supportive of access to birth control are more likely to support the full equality of women.
Birth control is often framed as something women take to avoid becoming parents altogether. But in reality, many women on birth control already are parents, and their ability to time their pregnancies gives them more time with the children they already have and may help them be better parents.
Unwanted children are far more likely to be abused, and women forced to have children they don’t want are more likely to resent their children. Birth control ensures that children are wanted.
Ready access to birth control also decreases abortion. While political debates about abortion thunder loudly, there is no doubt that abortion is stressful and that some women suffer immensely when they have abortions.
Children are undeniably expensive, and when families can’t control the number of children they have, they are more likely to be launched into poverty.
Poverty isn’t just an individual ill. Poverty extracts a high cost and taxes government resources, private services, and society as a whole.
Perhaps equally troubling, mental health problems are correlated with poverty. People living in poverty are more likely to succumb to depression and anxiety as a result of the stresses of low standards of living.
They are also less likely to seek treatment for mental health problems because of the prohibitively high costs of such treatment. The result is that mental illnesses often become much more severe among people living in poverty because they don’t seek treatment early.
Contraception is not wrong. (n.d.). BBC News. Retrieved from
Gordon, L., & Gordon, L. (2002). The moral property of women: A history of birth control politics in America. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Potts, M. (2012, February 20). A contraception game-changer. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
Edited by Jody Smith
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