There is a myth about birth control, perpetuated primarily by persons who have never had to obtain it, that it is readily available to anyone who might need it. This is one of the most pervasive and harmful pieces of misinformation used by politicians and pundits to claim that the mandate for insurance to cover the cost of birth control is not needed.
I have previously critiqued the ignorance that Lee Doren (of HowTheWorldWorks) displayed in his video on the mandate. Doren makes the assumption that condoms can directly replace any other form of birth control. While condoms are a reliable form of contraception as well as STI prevention, they do not allow a woman to be in control of her own body. Relying solely on condoms as contraception is a patriarchal system that places reproductive decisions in the physical hands of men.
Since writing about Doren’s commentary, I have been thinking about the other ways in which birth control decisions are distanced from women.
For example, the requirement of a prescription for women under seventeen to obtain Plan B from pharmacies directly contradicts an FDA ruling that the drug is completely safe and should be available to anyone who needs it without a prescription. This decision was made for political and cultural reasons that go against the advisement of medical professionals.
Stephanie Mencimer writes about how the financial needs of doctors and pharmaceutical companies create medically un-needed hoops that women must jump through in order to obtain a birth control prescription. Doctors may require pelvic exams or in-office consultations before they will renew a woman’s existing birth control prescription. For a person struggling to pay for their birth control each month, the added burden of a co-pay to renew their prescription can often cause them to skip or defer a month of birth control. Studies show that if birth control pills are not taken perfectly (at the same time each day for consecutive months with no breaks in between) the risk of getting pregnant jumps from a 1% chance to a 9% chance.
If these two issues don’t infuriate you, let’s talk about IUDs. Intrauterine devices are the most effective form of reversible birth control for sexually-active women. They are effective for long periods of time: 5 years for the hormonal IUD, Mirena, and 10 years for the copper IUD, Paragard. While the one-time cost of insertion can be steep, many insurance companies cover the procedure, and Planned Parenthood offers help affording IUDs for uninsured women. So, why have so many women not even heard of this form of birth control? American doctors are wary of IUDs, believing outdated studies about their safety. Physicians fear law suits over the small amount of women who may become infertile from complications of the device. While many experts have approved IUDs for use in teenage girls, many doctors still believe that they can only be inserted in women who have had a child. The misinformation of doctors keeps women from accessing a reliable form of birth control.
Condoms are the only form of reversible birth control available to sexually-active men, and they are available in virtually every drug store, grocery store, and gas station in America. Condoms do not allow women to take their own precautions and protect their own bodies from pregnancy, and the methods that do allow this are being held hostage by misinformed doctors, judgmental pharmacists, and politicians who care more about religious morality than scientific facts. This is what we mean by the war on women. A nation that does not allow every person to have control over their own reproductive capabilities is a nation that does not respect the bodily integrity of its citizens.