Friday, November 30, 2012

Equal access

Despite the best efforts of the GOP, most women living in most areas of the US (Mississippi, Arkansas and Arizona are some notable exceptions) do have more freedom and better access to opportunities than women living in many other parts of the world. But one area where we seriously lack is access to birth control.

Yes, we can get it (most of the time, and if we can afford it), but most people don’t even know what equal access to gender-specific birth control (condoms are male-specific, as they are worn by the man – oral contraceptives are [currently] female-specific) would look like. 

Imagine a man wants to procure a gender-specific method of contraception. He goes to a drug store/gas station/grocery store/public restroom and purchases one for about $0.50 each, or $6-$10 for a pack.

Now imagine a woman wants to procure gender-specific, oral contraceptives.

If she has insurance, she has to set up an appointment with her OB/GYN, or possibly with her primary care provider first, to get a referral to her OB/GYN, and wait for the appointment (oftentimes for weeks!) – alternately, of course – a woman could go to a Planned Parenthood IF it hasn’t been defunded in her state. Then once she is able to take the time off work to attend her appointment, most of the time she’ll be forced to undergo a non-birth-control-specific, not medically-necessary invasive pap smear which is tied to prescribing to further discourage women from engaging in sexual activity. Then she has to take the prescription to the pharmacy, hope the pharmacist doesn’t think his or her religious beliefs supersede the woman’s private medical decision, get the prescription, and return every 4-12 weeks to pick up a new pack. And then repeat annually.

Sort of a side note, but the American Cancer Society has released new guidelines recommending that women now should only get pap smears beginning at age 21, then once every 3-5 years between the ages of 21-30, and once every 5 years after that. Yet the pap smear/pelvic exam is still a mandatory part of the birth control process for the vast majority of women. Why?

Because it’s another means of controlling and degrading us. It started off as a patronizing “women are too stupid to take care of themselves if we don’t require them to do it” and has continued on as an uncomfortable method of forcing women to submit to physical and sexual discomfort in order to gain access to safer sex. You want to be penetrated? How about by ice-cold tongs.

But back to my original point. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recently recommended that oral contraceptives be available over the counter without a doctor’s prescription. They point to studies that show that easier access to oral contraceptives will lower the country’s unintended pregnancy rate, will drastically reduce costs for taxpayers, and that prove that oral contraceptives are safe. In fact, oral contraceptives are safer than Aspirin, but you won’t hear that statistic from the religious right. The only indicator that needs to be checked for oral contraceptives is blood pressure to ensure against the possible risk of stroke, and most pharmacies are already equipped with a blood pressure machine.

But with the way our country is currently heading, I don’t see their recommendation being adopted anytime soon.

Why? Because the very vocal, very wealthy religious right doesn’t believe women should have equal access to sexuality. And that’s what the fight is really about – not about some poor Catholic having his religious beliefs trampled upon by some woman he doesn’t know taking a daily pill, but about a subset of the population who believe women should be controlled by any means possible.

If women can’t access birth control, they can’t have sex as frequently, or without a considerably higher risk of pregnancy. It ensures women face greater consequences for the moral sin of enjoying sex and demanding equality. To these people, the purpose of woman is to serve as docile broodmare to her husband – if women can control reproduction, they can attain higher levels of education and wealth, and threaten the entrenched superiority of the white man. And that’s what’s at stake here – not just access to birth control, but access to the right to say ‘I am allowed the same sexual, physical and moral freedom as a man. I am owed equality. Recognize my humanity.’  

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