One of the 2012 campaign’s major meta-debates has been the question of whether so-called social issues like abortion rights and contraception coverage are also related to the economy. The Romney campaign has tended to argue that they aren’t — asked recently for her opinion on the birth control coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act, Ann Romney said, “you’re asking me questions that are not about what this election is going to be about. This election is going to be about the economy and jobs.”
But advocates of abortion rights and contraceptive coverage have countered that you can’t separate birth control from the economy — as Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan writes, “as long as pregnancy and childbirth cost money, and time that could be used to make more money if it wasn’t being spent on kid-wrangling, a woman’s ability to control the size of her family is the most important economic issue of all.” A new study of how women see birth control gives some support to the latter view.
Reproductive-rights research organization the Guttmacher Institute surveyed 2,094 women at 22 clinics around the country. They asked the women about their reasons for using birth control, and about the role of birth control in their lives. The answers to the latter question turned out to be especially interesting. Fifty-six percent of women said contraception had allowed them to support themselves financially; 51% said it had helped them finish their education. And 50% said it had help them get or keep a job.
Jobs and money also figured prominently in women’s reasons for using birth control. Twenty-three percent cited their or their partner’s unemployment as a very important reason to use contraception. And the most popular reason, cited by 65% of women, was “I can’t afford a baby right now.”
At least among the women the Guttmacher researchers talked to, access to contraception appeared to have very direct economic consequences. The study didn’t look at how contraception actually affected women’s education or job status (though it did cite another study showing that over time, contraceptive access means more women are able to get a college education before giving birth), but it did measure their feelings about what contraception made possible. And if women feel that birth control helps them stay solvent and keep their jobs, framing it as entirely separate from economic concerns may not resonate with them.