I’ve Been an OB-GYN in Colorado for Five Decades. We Can’t Go Back.
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I’ve Been an OB-GYN in Colorado for Five Decades. We Can’t Go Back.

In August, I retired from a fifty-year-long career caring for women in Lakewood as an OB-GYN. I’ve seen many changes in the way we practice medicine and in how our country approaches women’s health. But in all my years of practice, I am most terrified now for the future of women’s health care in Colorado and in the United States.

I was born and raised in Colorado, and during half a century of practicing medicine, I have had the privilege of caring for families over generations. I have seen young women who grow up and start families, and their children and grandchildren becoming my patients as well. And while I know my colleagues will continue providing my patients with the best possible care, I am deeply concerned about how political games in Washington will affect women's health and their lives.

This month, the Trump administration issued a rule undermining birth control coverage for 62 million women that saved over $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs for women. In Colorado, almost 1 million women had access to no-copay birth control thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance plans cover birth control. Losing this policy would be devastating for women across our state.

Birth control has saved women’s lives, made women healthier, and has opened up new career and education opportunities that women five decades ago did not have.

Last year, unintended pregnancy was at its lowest rate in thirty years. It’s clear: Increased access to birth control is leading to better maternal outcomes.

I’ve seen birth control help women lead healthier lives. Women use birth control for a variety of reasons. Fifty-eight percent of all women who use the pill rely on it, at least in part, for something other than pregnancy prevention. This includes polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids — which are both prevalent among women of color — endometriosis, and menstrual regulation.

And I’ve watched as birth control has transformed women's opportunities to compete in the workforce and pursue educational opportunities. One-third of wage gains since 1960 are a direct result of access to hormonal birth control, and Bloomberg Businessweek ranked the invention of the pill as one of the top ten most transformative moments in the business sector over the past 85 years. Women now get more than half of college degrees, and half of U.S. families have a female breadwinner.

Birth control is not controversial: It’s something the vast majority of women will use in the course of their lifetime. After decades of watching how birth control has made women healthier and given them more opportunities, the debate should be over.

Deciding whether and when to have children is not just one of the most important personal and economic decisions a woman makes — it’s one of the most important health decisions of her life. No woman should be forced into pregnancy because she wasn’t able to get the birth control she needed. No woman’s health should be determined by the whims of her employer or politicians in Washington.

It’s not just birth control that this administration and Congress are after. They’re cutting back on Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, and they’re on a crusade to block Medicaid patients from accessing birth control, cancer screenings, and STI testing at Planned Parenthood.

We can’t afford to lose no-copay coverage for contraception. I was an OB-GYN in 1965 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Griswold decision. That year, 32 women were dying for every 100,000 live births in America. Today, the rate is less than half that, but it’s rising, in contrast with every other developed nation in the world. Rolling back access to birth control would only make this worse, and would disproportionately impact black women, who are already facing maternal mortality rates three to four times higher than white women.

I have always been proud to be an OB-GYN in Colorado, because our state has recognized the importance of reproductive health care. In 2009, Colorado led the nation in recognizing the importance of effective contraception and started the Colorado Family Planning Initiative to provide long-acting reversible contraception like intrauterine devices and birth control implants to women free of charge. Today, Colorado’s teen pregnancy and abortion rates have dropped by 50 percent, and the state has saved nearly $70 million in public assistance costs.

I hope my elected officials in Colorado will stand up for women in our state and push back against the administration for this rule. As someone who has cared for women in Colorado for five decades, I know that they are counting on them to stand up for them and not turn the clock back on their health care.

Dr. Harvey Cohen was an OB-GYN for over fifty years and is a member of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He founded Red Rocks Ob-Gyn, previously known as Cohen and Conner, in 1964, and practiced there until he retired in August 2017.

Westword occasionally publishes opinion pieces on topics of interest to Denver residents. Interested in submitting one? Send it to editorial@westword.com.

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