Contraception Is a Right

Planned ParenthoodI started taking birth control pills when I was 19. My father got them for me.

This is not a false memory. I told my mother I was involved with a guy, she told my father, and my father went to the doctor and got me a three-month prescription. (I later followed up with the doctor and got a pelvic exam so I could keep getting pills.)

My parents weren’t concerned about their daughters having sex, but they worried a lot about their daughters getting pregnant. My mother often told me that I shouldn’t wait until I got married to have sex but that I should always use contraception, which turned out to be useful advice since I never got married.

Later, I told my younger sister to go to  Planned Parenthood so she could get pills. I’m not sure why she didn’t discuss it with my parents, but I certainly had no ethical dilemma about it. I knew how my parents felt.

This is on my mind this week because I’ve seen several encouraging articles about the importance of contraception.

One, published by Pacific Standard from materials originally published in the British medical journal Lancet, points out that providing contraception to 90 percent of those who need it worldwide would save the lives of 67,000 women and 440,000 children over the next year.

The other, an op-ed in The New York Times by the governor of Delaware, points out that by providing access to contraception, states can prevent unplanned pregnancies.  The governor observes: “By helping women choose when to become pregnant, we can improve health, save millions of dollars and help restore economic opportunity to more of our citizens.”

And a couple of weeks ago in an April 1 column that was not at all a joke, Gail Collins spoke the truth about the anti-abortion movement:

In reality, the anti-abortion movement is grounded on the idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and the only choice a woman should have is between abstinence and the possibility of imminent parenthood. …

Look at it this way and it’s easy to understand why abortion opponents have shown virtually no interest in working to make contraceptives and family planning universally available. It’s the sex, at bottom, that they oppose, and the politicians they support feel no pressure — or even any freedom — to try to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies through anything but high school abstinence lectures.

In yesterday’s Times, Linda Greenhouse detailed the depressing history of absurd anti-abortion laws being adopted by states headed by Republican governors. But she also discussed the Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision changing the label for the drug mifepristone to allow doctors to prescribe a much lower dose and to increase the time of the pregnancy involved from seven to ten weeks.

Addressing the question of why anti-abortion groups have focused on medication abortions, as well as explaining why the FDA rules change is so important, Greenhouse observes:

Medication abortion promises the ultimate in women’s empowerment and privacy. No need for a fancy facility …. No need for a doctor’s presence. No pickets or gauntlet of “sidewalk counselors” urging women to turn back.

It’s just possible that the virulent misogyny of the Republican candidates for president, coupled with the extreme and unconstitutional laws adopted by several states and the over-the-top attacks on Planned Parenthood, might have pushed things so far that the rest of the U.S. — including federal agencies that have been loathe to do their job when it comes to reproductive rights — is coming to its senses.

Of course, the publications I’ve cited are published in New York and California, places viewed by suspicion in the rest of the country. But New York is the venerable leader of the country and California, with ten percent of the U.S. population, is the cutting edge where things start. As a rule, the rest of the country gets around to adopting policies a few years after California does.

(I should note that I noticed the influence of California long before I moved out here.)

I observe that countries where the Zika virus is becoming a big problem are encouraging women to put off getting pregnant. Unfortunately, some of those countries have draconian anti-abortion laws and make getting contraception very difficult. It’s possible that one good result – among many terrible ones – of this disease will be that those countries will have to face reality. I hope so.

Access to contraception, abortion, and reproductive health services are essential for women. Not only are those things important for the health of women and their children, they also make it possible for women to participate fully in society.

We need to do more than fight holding actions against those who want to keep women “in their place” with extreme laws. It’s time to start funding programs such as the ones advocated by Delaware’s governor and putting in place international programs that provide contraception and other reproductive health care to women worldwide.

Writing this has reminded me that I hadn’t donated to Planned Parenthood in awhile, so I sent them some money. Here’s a link to their donate page in case some readers feel like doing that, too.

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Contraception Is a Right — 9 Comments

  1. Far elsewhere on the internet we are having a debate: are things getting better, or worse? I pointed out that for more than half the human race things are decidedly better. For women, life is indisputably better now than it has been at any other point in human history. Not all women in every country, of course, or over all their lives, but overall.
    And this is solely attributable to birth control. Only control over our fertility has allowed us to achieve every other advance in the past hundred years. Don’t think we can’t lose this, ladies. It’s not permanent. You’ve read HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood? Robert Heinlein’s alternate history cycle? At least here, in this genre, we should know: vote. Vote, for your lives and those of your daughters.

  2. Without having the full spectrum of contraceptive options, including abortion, that she can herself control in terms of access and usage, no woman can have control of her own life.

    Which is why there’s this thing called war on women’s health, particularly our reproductive health.

  3. You are correct to identify the anti-abortion movement with the anti-contraception and the traditional marriage movements. That is why “right to life” as an identifier is so infuriating for me. The “right to life” leg of the tripod is the one that can be made to seem like it is a part of an ethical system, but the whole thing comes down to control of women. No abortion, no contraception, and “one man, one woman till death do they part” is the whole program, just as you point out.

    Seems to echo “make America great again” and “take our country back”.

    • It is easy to prove that ‘right to life’ has nothing to do with life. If they wanted to lower the number of abortions, the solution is easy: birth control. These people should be handing out condoms like candy, big barrels of them for free at the church door, one with every tract or leaflet, in neon-colored packaging thrown into cheering crowds at rallies. Planned Parenthood should be their BFFs, working hand in hand with them. This is a no-brainer. No unwanted pregnancy means no abortion, right? But nooo…
      And therefore we are forced to conclude that life has nothing to do with it. It has to do with sex. Controlling those dirty women and their sex lives.

      • Exactly. I just can not fathom how the anti-abortion / contraception / traditional marriage position coexists with the “boys will be boys” permissive rape culture. But it does.

        I can imagine a dystopian (not too far from Handmaid’s world) future in which women are required to have implanted mechanisms controllable remotely by men deciding what happens with a pregnancy. RTL is code for a yearning for a level of control that did not even exist in the 50’s.

    • This is why I refuse to refer to the anti-abortion movement as “pro-life.” It was a great public relations coup for them when the news media and even feminists started to use that term.

  4. This morning I saw another article that belonged in this blog post. A new study has shown that women who wait to have children until after they are 30 earn a lot more over their lifetimes than women who have children younger. This applies regardless of level of education.

    Makes sense to me. Getting established in your career before having children will give you more options. Also, people who wait will likely have more resources when they have children, which will make it easier to work, etc.

    And, of course, putting off having children means having access to contraception.