On Birth Control and the Patriarchy

Monday, March 5, 2012
I'm 46 years old. When I was 35, I had a tubal ligation. Ten years after the Smart Twins were born, I was positive that I still did not want to bear any more children, and decided to execute on a more permanent solution. Which my HMO paid for, by the way.

So from a reproductive health perspective, you'd think that would mean I would no longer need access to birth control. After all, I'm approaching menopause, I'm effectively sterile, and my children are now adults. But you'd be wrong.

Like a lot of women in this country, my access to safe, prescription birth control pills has nothing to do with preventing pregnancy, and everything to do with my reproductive health. You see, I am one of a large percentage of women who have debilitating pain during menstruation. I experienced back pain that was so severe it occasionally brought tears to my eyes and forced me to take sick days. I was on a prescription strength anti-inflammatory, and the next pharmaceutical option was narcotics.

And with my highly addictive personality, nothing could have gone wrong with THAT plan.

So my NP decided to stop my periods by placing me on a no-placebo birth control regimen. My periods stopped. The pain stopped. My quality of life was restored. And I no longer lose several productive days each month. Days where my employer has to pay me whether I'm designing solutions for sale or laying on the couch with a heating pad.

Let's make no mistake on the economics of this scenario - the fact that my company pays for my "birth control" through my HMO saves them money by a pretty significant margin. According to the Planned Parenthood website, birth control pills cost between $15 and $50 a month, depending on the brand required. Even assuming my own birth control pills were in the high end category (they're not), that $50.00 a month is still a bargain at twice the price. Sick days for someone at my salary level costs my company much, much more. It's just good business to ensure I have what I need to remain productive. The fact that I can afford to pay for my own prescriptions is not the point - in this context, productivity is, and smart companies maximize their productivity for the least cost.

But let's assume that I was 20 years old and made $8.00 an hour. Even then, it still makes sense. When I was a Company Commander at the Naval Training Center in San Diego in the early 1990's I worked with OB/GYN NP on issues of women's health. And her motto was, "When an eighteen year old runs out of birth control, THAT'S a medical emergency!" And she was so right. By withholding birth control from young women when they're least ready to start and support a family, the patriarchy is engaging in discrimination and persecution of the very worst kind, and also increasing the number of young women who either choose to have an abortion or require public assistance after the birth of their baby.

In my opinion, access to safe, effective birth control is the SINGLE GREATEST FACTOR in allowing women to compete and contribute alongside men in our modern society outside of the context of childbearing. As a woman in the 20th and 21st Centuries, I have the ability to choose when and if I want to have children, and to control and plan my pregnancies. Without access to birth control, I am subject to the whim of biology and denied the self-determination that has made my life's accomplishments possible.

So when conservative pundits and politicians attempt to remove that factor from the lives of women, what they're really saying is, "You deserve to be a slave to biology. The biggest contribution to our society that you can hope to make is to bear children. It's not up to you to control your body, your life, your destiny. It's up to me. Because I know better than you, and can better determine your life's path."

Fuck that, and fuck them.

Birth control is a public health issue. It's a human rights issue. It's the cornerstone of women's ability to contribute and participate in public life on their own terms. I'm sick to death of conservatives assuming they have some right to legislate my uterus while simultaneously proclaiming their dedication to "small government" and "keeping the government out of family life." Choosing to have a baby (or not) is the most basic cornerstone of family life, and none of these hypocritical motherfuckers have a single thing to say to me about it. What they're essentially saying to me is to go make them a sandwich, while they take on the hard-won self-determination and life's choices women have enjoyed since the advent of safe, reliable birth control.

Fuck that, and fuck them.

Never before in my adult life has an election cycle so obviously centered around women's rights and how the conservatives would like to roll back the clock on that issue. I can make my own choices about my family life and my health. I don't need Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul to help me. "War on women" indeed. Only this time, I think they're going to find that women, and men who care about women, will assume roles as combatants.

14 comments:

Warner said...

Fully agree with you.

Michael Tachco said...

As an 18 year old young man, I had choices: If I could afford them, I could choose to use contraceptives or not. Whether I could afford them or not, I then had the choice to have sex with my partner or not. When my partner became pregnant, I had a choice to be a part of my child's life or not. As to whether the child would be born, I had no choice. Because we were not married, I had no legal claim to the child however, once it was born, as to whether I would financially support the child, I had no legal choice. This was and is the way or your "patriarchal" establishment.
As an 18 year old young man, I had one basic choice- to be prepared to live with the consequences of my actions or not. It never occurred to me that anyone else was in any way, shape or form, responsible for my actions or the consequences that were to follow. It certainly never occurred to me that my employer or my neighbor or my community or my state or my federal government was in any way remotely responsible for the choices I had made. I had the choice to be the best human being I could imagine or not and no imposition on the world around me was ever going to change that.

Janiece said...

And so it begins.

Let's be clear, Michael - this is not a discussion about the paternal rights of men. Drop the subject (or write about it on your own blog), because that's not the issue here. Although I would contend that anyone who refused to support their own child unless they were threatened with legal action is kind of a douche.

We're not talking about other people being responsible for women's choices. If we were, the conversation would be "Free birth control for everyone!" not "birth control covered under existing health care plans."

We're talking about health care. We're talking about a woman's right to make her own health care decisions without having to run them by the conservative patriarchy first. We're talking about a woman's right to have complete health coverage without having to justify her medical choices to some religious nutbag.

When prescriptions for Viagra and vasectomies enter this conversation in the same context as women's birth control, i.e., a moral one, you can tell me it's not about feminism. But of course, they WON'T, because it's about misogyny, not health care.

Michael Tachco said...

No, to be even clearer: There are plenty of religious nuts out there more than willing to co-opt every detail of our lives and force all to conform to their own ideals but what you are really up against are those of us who just want to be left alone.

We, everyone, should always have the right to self-determination. I would donate time and resources toward a fight to the end for that right for all. But no one, regardless of gender, race, religious affiliation, has the right to prevail in the pursuit of their own ideal at the expense of others.

Regardless of our sex, we are all born with the right to live our lives as we wish and only intervention from a collective authority, driven by an industrial-strength desire to grow, ever comes between us and that right. No one has the right to claim the hours that I work and the compensation that supports my family as a 'right' to support their own version of personal well-being.

Janiece said...

No one has the right to claim the hours that I work and the compensation that supports my family as a 'right' to support their own version of personal well-being.

So you'll be moving to Somalia, then?

Of course society reserves that right. It's the price we pay for living in a society rather than an anarchy. We ALL contribute to the common good in the form of taxes and social safety nets. The rub is determining what constitutes the public good. A topic on which people of good conscience can disagree, even vociferously.

Janiece said...

And it also occurs to me, Michael, that your point is a red herring of the worst sort. This is not about your tax dollars. It's about HEALTH CARE. And the regulations surrounding it.

I don't think libertarians should be eligable for public programs of any sort, including Medicare, unemployment, social security, welfare or government pension. Because I think denying them such benefits is morally consistant with their beliefs. Does that mean my personal beliefs should be the law of the land? Of course not - that would be wrong. Just as denying women healthcare - healthcare THEY'RE PAYING FOR IN THE FORM OF THEIR PREMIUMS - is also wrong.

Laura = ^.^ = said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Excellent! I'm going to bookmark this one for future reference.

One thing you didn't address is that access to safe, effective birth control is in no way forcing anyone to use it. If somehow (cough-religion-cough) you have been convinced that you shouldn't use birth control, you don't have to. But you not wanting it doesn't mean some other woman shouldn't have it available. It's women-win!

Eric said...

No one has the right to claim the hours that I work and the compensation that supports my family as a 'right' to support their own version of personal well-being.

We have a right to ask you to pay your share for living here and enjoying the benefits of our police, roads, firetrucks, national defense, educational system, greenways, courthouses, jails, public transit, food safety regulations, etc., at rates to be determined to be fair by the majority's determination of how you should be charged. We reserve the right to insist that you pay for many of these things even if you don't directly enjoy the immediate benefit of any of them, since it's extremely probable you enjoy the indirect benefit of nearly all of them and there's some possibility you might choose to directly enjoy one of the things civilization offers (or, tragically, a possibility you might require the use of one or more of these things, Michael: we hope you are never the victim of a crime, never have your home catch fire, never have to take someone else to court for any reason, never face a disaster that requires the deployment of the National Guard or regular Armed Forces--but all of these things are here for you just in case Something Bad happens).

It might be more fair from some cosmic perspective to only charge you for the use of these things when you needed them, but it isn't the least bit practical. Can you imagine what would happen if the dreaded Canadians invaded and that's when we passed the hat around to take up a collection for some nice tanks and a couple of jet fighters? What if someone refused to pony up? One might also argue it isn't fair for people who can't or don't pay to nonetheless benefit from public services; unfortunately, that's not very practical, either. For one thing, fires (for example) don't actually discriminate between the fellow who paid for the fire department and the fellow next door who didn't--indeed, I imagine the fellow who paid for it would be just fine with his neighbor's burning home being put out before a fire spread to his own home even if it meant the neighbor caught a free ride. And then there's the fact that sometimes the primary or obvious beneficiary isn't really the only beneficiary at all: I may not have any school-age children of my own, but I am nonetheless happy to pay for everyone else's little tykes to be shut up with a teacher for six to eight hours instead of dealing with urchin gangs roaming my neighborhood; not to mention the fact that one of these days these kids will be adults, and if they're employable and smart they'll no doubt be more pleasant to deal with whenever and wherever I finally encounter them.

To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." Yes, they are, I am totally down with that.

Carol Elaine said...

Hi Michael! I gotta say, I'm surprised to see you here. I hope you're ready for some awesomeness, because Janiece is one of my favorite people by virtue of, well, being an awesome human being.

Of course by the time I checked out the latest comments on this entry, I noticed that Janiece, Tom and Eric (two more of my favorite people) had responded in exactly the way that I would.

Well, not exactly the way I would have - they tend to be far more eloquent than I am. But their words are true ones.

Yes, we all should be responsible for our own actions and their consequences. But there are times when G-d/Fate/Cthulu slams us in the head - through no fault of our own - and we're grateful for that safety net which we've paid into.

Health care should be part of that safety net. For women who have been laid off or have otherwise lost their health insurance - or could never get it due to lack of funds despite all their best efforts - contraceptives need to be included in affordable health care plans provided by government. In most cases contraceptives are just that - use to prevent pregnancy. But in many other cases they are used in the way that Janiece had to use them - for medical reasons.

And even if it's used for contraception, it still should be part of an affordable medical plan because society benefits if a woman doesn't get pregnant before she can afford to care for a child. If a woman gets pregnant and can't afford to raise a child, then that woman has to look to the safety net to help her and her child out.

In the end, which is more cost effective?

However, if you take the safety net away completely, then that woman and her child will live in even worse circumstances - if they even survive - and will never get the opportunity to stabilize themselves so that they can grow and prosper and become contributing members of society.

BTW, I have had to rely on that safety net myself several times. My mother has to rely on the safety net. While I am currently fortunate enough to be working for an employer with excellent health care plans, every day I am grateful that the safety net was there for me when I needed it and is there for my mother.

We're all in it together, Michael, whether you like it or not. Why not recognize that we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.

rsaund said...

I admire and value the way all of you have discussed this issue in a CIVIL, RESPECTFUL way. Kudos to everyone no matter what their opinion - we need more of this type of discourse.

Janiece said...

Welcome, rsaund.

beatrice in Paris said...

I'm in my little cocoon over here. Has the entire Republican party gone anti-choice?

Janiece said...

Yes, Beatrice. I'm sorry to report that is indeed the case.