Birth control is a critical element of healthcare. It doesn’t just allow women to manage their reproductive lives, but also is regularly used to manage health conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Unfortunately, in recent months, many women have experienced gaps in their birth control access, and there are no simple solutions. That’s because these care gaps are the result of multiple different issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and USPS slow downs, all coinciding. While there are some potential remedies, many women are scrambling to ensure consistent access to birth control – and raising concerns about the future of reproductive healthcare.

A Political Battleground

Birth control and other forms of reproductive healthcare regularly emerge as political battlegrounds, and this is no less true right now than it was twenty or even fifty years ago. Trump’s leading picks to fill Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Supreme Court seat are Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative mother of seven, and Barbara Lagoa, a Florida-based judge who has previously described the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate as a “grave violation of religious freedom.” 

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Ginsberg’s newly open court seat is just one of several events since Trump’s election that have left women scrambling to adjust their birth control method. During the week after his election, Planned Parenthood saw a 900% increase in IUD appointments, and stores struggle to keep Plan B in stock whenever the national conversation turns to reproductive health policy. Women are acutely aware of what they have to lose.

The COVID Collapse

Another issue impacting women’s access to and approach regarding birth control is the COVID-19 pandemic. Many doctors are only offering critical services in-person, restricting most other care to telehealth, and millions have no health insurance after losing their jobs. As a result, they may not even be able to afford an appointment to get their birth control prescription. One solution comes in the form of online birth control services, which emerged from the nexus between political opposition to birth control and lack of universal healthcare. 

Online birth control services ensure affordable, discreet access to birth control, delivered right to customers’ doors, significantly simplifying the whole process. There’s no in-person appointments, no mention of birth control on their packaging, and no need to even drive to the pharmacy. These services fill an important gap – but postal service slowdowns have created new barriers.

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USPS Falls Behind

The USPS plays many roles, delivering basics like bills and magazines, as well as ensuring Americans in rural areas have consistent access to medication and other critical services. Furthermore, over the last several years, a growing number of insurance companies have encouraged or required subscribers to get their prescriptions from online pharmacies. Add to all this the increased interest in voting by mail this year, and COVID-related ecommerce boosts, and the USPS would certainly be busy, but it would be nothing they couldn’t handle.

Unfortunately, despite the USPS’s clear capacity to handle current mail volumes, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is enforcing policies that delay mail delivery. He’s removed or shut down countless mail sorting machines, and new policies have led to carriers leaving the post office without much of the mail for their route. This would be disastrous even if USPS didn’t deliver medication, but many women have seen delays in birth control deliveries via mail. Since birth control needs to be taken on a consistent schedule, often daily, in order to be effective, this is a serious problem. 

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Looking Ahead

Even if birth control continues to be universally covered by health insurance, which remains to be seen, women are right to be concerned about overall access. As a result, we’re likely to see ongoing high demand for IUD placements, as well as longer-term birth control like the birth control implant. While reversible, these forms of birth control provide continuous coverage without worries about prompt prescription renewals or regular medical visits. Stores are also likely to see an increase in purchases of Plan B, which has a shelf life of four years, when stored correctly. It’s all about being prepared.

Overall, the biggest pivot women need to make in their approach to birth control is from viewing it as a simple component of their overall health – something they can drop by the pharmacy for or schedule for delivery – to something that requires more extensive planning. What would you do if your normal source of contraceptives was suddenly cut off or delayed? Have a plan, because you may need it.

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