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By Julie Kliegman March 26, 2014

Barbara Boxer says more than half of women use birth control to treat other conditions

As the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case regarding the Affordable Care Act’s free birth control provision, there’s no shortage of discourse on abortions, emergency contraception and yes, even penis pumps.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., addressed her argument on the case by working Viagra into the conversation. She expressed frustration on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. at what she sees as a hypocritical view of men’s and women’s health issues.

"I have never heard them put any type of moral objection, remember, this is a moral objection, to men getting Viagra, but they have a moral objection to women getting certain types of birth control," Boxer said.

Hobby Lobby argued that requiring employers to offer health coverage that includes emergency contraception violates religious freedom. They oppose contraception they believe is equivalent to inducing abortion, such as morning-after pills and IUDs.

Boxer continued pushing back against that position.

"I view this as very much an anti-woman position to take," Boxer said. "And it’s important to note that women take birth control, more than half of them, as a medication for other conditions, so it is an attack on women."

PolitiFact wanted to take a closer look at the different reasons women use birth control.

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Boxer’s folks pointed us to a November 2011 report from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that studies reproductive rights. They focused specifically on the birth control pill, not all contraception. Here’s what they found:

  • Out of the more than 7,354 women surveyed, 58 percent of pill users cited at least one noncontraceptive reason for taking it. That includes managing menstrual pain, period regulation and acne. That’s where Boxer’s "more than half" claim comes from. Many of the women in this category also take the pill to prevent pregnancy.

  • But just 14 percent of pill users said they only took the pill for noncontraceptive reasons.

Guttmacher senior associate Rachel Jones, the author of that report, said the use of birth control pills among adolescents is even more pronounced. Out of 15- to 19-year-olds, 33 percent took the pill only for noncontraceptive reasons, more than double the percentage of the general population.

Adolescent women are especially prone to irregular and painful menstruation cycles, Jones said.

Our ruling

Boxer said more than half of women use birth control  "as a medication for other conditions." She was referring specifically to the pill. Guttmacher says 58 percent of women on the pill take it for noncontraceptive reasons. But that number drops to 14 percent if you look at women who take the pill only for noncontraceptive reasons.

Her claim is based in fact, but requires additional clarification about the type of birth control and the survey results. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Email and phone interviews with Jacqueline Harvey, Reproductive Research Audit director, March 26, 2014

Email interview with Mallory Quigley, Susan B. Anthony List spokeswoman, March 26, 2014

Email interview with Peter True, Sen. Barbara Boxer’s spokesman, March 25, 2014

Guttmacher Institute, "Beyond birth control: the overlooked benefits of oral contraceptive pills," November 2011

Jansing and Co, "Oral arguments begin in Hobby Lobby case," March 25, 2014

Phone interview with Rachel Jones, Guttmacher Institute senior research associate, March 26, 2014

Politico, "Barbara Boxer: Why no Viagra complaints?" March 25, 2014

UF Health Communications, "Women taking birth control pills for reasons other than contraception," Feb. 1, 2012

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More by Julie Kliegman

Barbara Boxer says more than half of women use birth control to treat other conditions

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