Birth Control Access: Are You Tired Too?

“This incubator is overused
Because you’ve kept it filled
The feelin’ good comes easy now
Since I’ve got the pill”
Loretta Lynn, “The Pill”


‘The Pill’ was first approved for contraceptive use in the United States in 1960 and today is used by almost 12 million women in this country alone as their primary method of birth control.  So last week’s announcement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that oral contraceptives are safe enough to be sold over the counter (without a doctor’s prescription) in drugstores has, needless to say, sparked lively response.

There is no doubt that, should the recommendation be implemented, oral contraceptives would become infinitely more accessible, especially for uninsured women and those who are unable to visit the doctor regularly.  Furthermore, the safety of hormonal birth control is comparable to drugs currently available OTC – including aspirin, which feminist voters may remember can be used as birth control in and of itself in a pinch.  (SARCASM ALERT.  DEAR READERS, DO NOT USE ASPIRIN AS BIRTH CONTROL.  THANK YOU.)

However, there are indeed drawbacks.  On a practical, cost-effective level, OTC drugs are not covered by insurance providers and therefore, women who do currently acquire their birth control with the help of their medical insurance plan would likely see costs rise rather than shrink.

But the more thorny issue remains the ‘well woman’ exam that accompanies a birth control prescription and renewal (and includes a pap smear to test for cervical cancer).  Many women’s health advocates see this required doctor’s visit as necessary – especially for the low-income women whose birth control exam may be their only form of preventative healthcare.

Others argue that the exam is an expression of a larger, sexually-repressive culture where women’s birth control is held hostage with medically-unnecessary procedures (the pap smear especially) and healthy women are given the message that they are engaging in risky behavior simply by being sexually active.

While there is merit in both arguments, it cannot be denied that adult women are forced to consistently jump the hurdles that our society sets for them in the name of ‘their own good.’

Remember Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius?  Flying in the face of an FDA ruling that Plan B, the emergency contraceptive pill, is safe enough to be available OTC to minors with her statement that she “do(es) not believe enough data were presented to support the application to make Plan B One-Step available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age?”

Again and again, science and common sense are trumped by hazy morality and political games.  And, simply for daring to have consensual, adult sex, a woman is expected to pay the piper.  Want to get an abortion but don’t want that medically unnecessary, costly, emotionally traumatizing ultrasound?  Grit your teeth, ladies — you shouldn’t have had unprotected sex.  Want to get your birth control prescription filled, but your pharmacist is a Bible thumper?  Sorry, his ‘constitutional right’ trumps yours.

As a woman, as soon as we begin having sex, we begin being defined by it.  Our time and energy is spent pursuing our basic reproductive rights.  Talking about them.  Writing about them.  Lobbying for them.  Voting for them.  Here at “Half-Way” we’ve done nine whole posts regarding reproductive rights, when all that should really have to be said is the old stand-by, “my body, my choice.”  What could we do if we didn’t have to waste that potential fighting for what should be givens?  Gloria Steinem once said that “the future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving.”  And we’re not moving.  We’re stagnant.  One step forward, two steps back.  And it’s exhausting.


As third (or fourth, or fifth – depends on who’s counting) wave feminists, we’re no longer coming up with the next big idea, and this isn’t because we’re bad, leg-shaving, bra-wearing feminists.  It’s because we’re still fighting the battles of our feminist mothers and grandmothers (Margaret Sanger started campaigning for reproductive choice in 1914, when she began publishing her newsletter, The Woman Rebel) and it sometimes feels like we always will be.


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