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Town halls and phone calls: Join the fight to protect birth control access

It’s time to get up-close-and-personal with your senators.

If your newsfeed is anything like ours, you may be hearing a lot about health insurance lately. Two stories in particular have had our attention: The passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the leak of a draft regulation from the Trump Administration that, if made final, could make it easier for employers not to cover birth control in their employee health insurance plans.

Both of these policy changes have the potential to make it harder for many American women to get the birth control that’s right for them. There’s not much to be done about the regulation until it's released—but now is a great time to weigh in with the Senate about the AHCA.

Why care about the AHCA?

One thing is pretty clear: this legislation will undo or weaken many provisions that make health care affordable, including Medicaid expansion and subsidies. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the AHCA’s decrease in subsidies alone will mean 10 million people can no longer afford their private health insurance by 2018. The CBO estimates that another 13 million will lose Medicaid coverage by 2026—that’s a total of 23 million people who would lose their insurance.

What does all this have to do with birth control? Well, if people can’t afford health insurance, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to afford birth control either—or at least not their pick of all the available methods without copays. I.e. no health coverage means no coverage for birth control. (Not-so-fun fact: An IUD can cost over $800 without health care coverage.) So, if you care about affordable birth control and affordable health insurance overall, the AHCA should worry you.

So you’re worried…Now what?

The AHCA has passed in the House, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. It may be tempting to channel your worry into a cleverly-worded tweet, but those 140 characters alone aren’t the most effective way to protect health insurance and affordable birth control. The Senate is now working on their version of the bill, so calling your senators and attending town hall meetings are the best ways to make your voice heard.

If you’re nervous about doing either of those things, just remember that you don’t have to publically debate your senator and go viral to make a difference. Your voice can crack. You can stammer. You can write down what you plan to say beforehand and read it. The goal isn’t to be YouTube-worthy*. The goal is to make sure your concerns are documented.

Calling your senator

Staff at your senators’ offices keep track of how many calls they receive about a given issue and pass this information directly to your senators. If you don’t know who your senators are, you can find them on the U.S. Senate website. The three most important points to communicate are:

  1. You’re an actual constituent of their state.
  2. You care about millions of people being able to keep their health coverage, including access to birth control without copays.
  3. You want them to protect birth control access and affordable health insurance for all Americans by voting against the AHCA.

Angel Robinson, Public Policy Fellow at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, wrote about her experience calling her elected officials. She even created a script you can use to make your own calls:

Introduce yourself:

  • “Hi my name is [your name] and I live in [city + zip code]. May I speak with Senator [their name] or the staff member who oversees health care issues?” (You will most likely end up speaking with a member of the senator’s staff.)

Present your issue:

  • “Today I’m calling because I’m really concerned about losing access to no-copay birth control. Is the senator planning to protect affordable health care coverage for all Americans, including access to birth control with no out-of-pocket expenses?"

Recommend an action:

  • If the senator shares your views on health care: “I’m calling today to share my support for the senator’s decision to vote that way.”
  • If the senator opposes your views: “I’m calling today because I hope the senator will reconsider his/her stance on the issue.”

Share your story:

  • As you prepare to share your story, think about why affordable birth control matters to you. How has it helped you or the people you care about? Here’s Angel’s example: “Access to no-co pay birth control allows me to choose if and when I want to have a family. Because of this freedom, I can pursue an MD/MPH dual degree in order to help other women have the same opportunity as well.”

Close the call:

  • If your senator supports the issue: “Thank you for your support. I hope my story helps show why this issue is so important. Please continue to advocate for people like me. I appreciate it!"
  • If your senator opposes the issue: “I hope my story helps to show why this issue is important. Do you have any ideas for other solutions?”
    • If the senator or staffer has no concrete responses: “This issue affects my daily life, and I really hope Senator [their name] will reconsider his/her stance. Thank you for your time.”

Want to take action but really can't bring yourself to call? You can also text RESIST to 50409 and use the resistbot to tell your senators how you feel.

Attending a Town Hall

If you’re interested in attending a town hall meeting, you can find out when your senator is having one by visiting The Town Hall Project. When you ask a question, you’ll only have about two minutes, so set a timer and practice what you’ll ask before you arrive. You can find ideas for questions and talking points in The National Campaign’s “Questions for Policymakers” fact sheet. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • The average cost for one Medicaid-covered birth is $12,770, while the average annual cost for providing one woman with publicly funded birth control is $239.20. Facilitating access to the full range of contraceptive methods for low-income women saves taxpayers money. Do you think the federal government should continue funding to help people who make less than $30,000/year access birth control?
  • Unplanned pregnancy is declining in the U.S., and abortion is at its lowest levels since Roe v. Wade. This is the case both in states that have passed significant restrictions on abortion and in states that haven’t. Researchers attribute the decline to greater use of effective contraception, which leads to less unplanned pregnancy. Do you think that policymakers who oppose abortion should strongly support birth control access, and what specifically will you do to ensure that all women have access to effective and affordable birth control?
  • The need for publically funded contraception is already far greater than the supply. Nearly 20 million American women live in areas where public health care sites lack the full range of birth control methods. Excluding high-quality providers like Planned Parenthood from publically funded programs (or from being reimbursed by Medicaid) only increases this problem. Do you think all women should have access to the health care centers that provide their preferred contraceptive method? If so, how will you work to block legislation that would make it more difficult for lower income women to get the birth control method that works best for them?

If you have experience calling officials and/or attending town halls, share your stories and tips in the comments below! Your know-how can help everyone feel more comfortable. You can also check out this campaign to Keep Birth Control Copay Free for other ways to take action. And last but not least, if birth control access (or lack of access) has made a difference in your life, The National Campaign wants to hear about it. Sharing your story can help create a powerful picture of how affordable birth control affects all of us IRL.

* So you want to be a YouTube star? We get it. While phone calls and town halls have the most impact, feel free to follow those actions up by grabbing a camera and sharing your story online. You can also approach reporters at town hall meetings to help spread the word!

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