Apparently, I have very recently discovered my inner raging feminist!
In fact, am so thoroughly and completely annoyed at recent events that I could go all Rachel Maddow on you all, research the heck out of it, and write about it for a week or two.
But, this blog is about my personal (and unofficial—got that?) observations. So, here’s a brief follow-up to last week’s primal scream in order to wrap up the subject before I go back to blogging about hiking, eating, and crafting in Austria.
Comments welcome, of course.
Contraception as a women’s health issue.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 99 percent of American women use contraception at some point in their lives.
Furthermore, a typical woman is fertile for at least thirty years, usually closer to forty (as my great-grandmother discovered at age 51). The Guttmacher Institute points out that: “The typical U.S. woman wants only two children. To achieve this goal, she must use contraceptives for roughly three decades.”
Beyond the desire on the part of both women and men to limit family size, every pregnancy poses to some degree, a health risk for a woman. These risks are magnified when a woman is very young, very old, or had had many, or closely-spaced, pregnancies.
Plus, it’s just really hard work making babies. Ask anyone who has done so.
So, how, exactly, is contraception not basic health care for women?
There are also plenty of non-contraceptive uses for birth control pills, as I well know, along with about 14 percent of the American women who take them. My husband took responsibility for our long-term contraceptive needs shortly after my last child was born, yet I am on the pill and have been for about ten years.
I have a common condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. If I don’t take a certain type of oral contraceptive, my ovaries get these bumps on them that can get really big and cause serious problems. There are other aspects to this hormonal imbalance when untreated, including shrinking breasts, baldness, facial hair, obesity, and depression. (Fortunately, one little pill each day takes care of all of this—for the record, I am not boobless, bald, bearded, fat or depressed!)
Now, explain to me again how contraception is not basic health care?
Women’s health as a policy issue.
Here’s the thing. I think health policy in the U.S. should be based, well, on health. And just on health. Not on anyone’s particular idea of morality.
And yes, it is absolutely about freedom of religion. It’s about each individual person making a decision about contraception based on their own health needs, financial situation, religious beliefs, astrological sign, whatever. Because it’s your body and your decision.
On a related note, there were several impassioned comments on my earlier post defending the rhythm method, in particular the higher-tech version, now known as “Natural Family Planning.”
If that works for you, fine. But if you would rather use the pill, condoms, a diaphragm, an IUD, get your tubes tied, or if you are lucky enough to have a husband who is willing to take care of it, as I was, then that’s fine, too. Everyone should have all possible options available to them. And if you want to use no birth control and have a big family, go right ahead.
Even in the first world, some people find natural planning to be difficult and unreliable. However, in poor countries, women are often unable to obtain thermometers, calendars, or even the cooperation of their partners. In fact, they may be pretty fuzzy on how to count to 28. And the consequences of the method failing are greater for them because each pregnancy presents more health risks to a poor woman in a poor country than it does to a rich woman in rich country. Not to mention another mouth to feed.
In short, “natural family planning” may be better than nothing, and it may work for the lucky woman who has the basic equipment and skills to practice it, along with a patient husband who is in favor of limiting family size. But any organization that is making a serious effort to improve women’s health has to offer other options, or yeah, I’m going to wonder what planet they are living on. Because I’m pretty sure I’m not living there, and I am quite certain that “Beatrice,” the Zambian woman I mentioned in my original post, was not.
Some people have a problem with “forcing” Catholic institutions to include contraception on their health plans. They say, it’s not like you can’t just go out and get your own birth control, so what’s the problem?
I say WTF? Is this health insurance or personal salvation insurance? Is this a basic health need for women or not? Would you allow insurance companies to exclude other basic medical care, such as childhood immunizations, to the insured based on someone else’s “religious freedom?” That would be a joke, right?
Fortunately, 51 Senators just came to the same conclusion. But that is a frighteningly small margin.
Basic preventative health care is just that: basic and preventative. Insurance plans that do not cover contraception are inadequate and discriminatory. It doesn’t even make sense from a financial perspective because there is considerable evidence to suggest that contraceptive coverage is at the very least cost-neutral, and possibly even a money-saver, for insurance companies because it is cheaper than paying for pregnancies, births, and extra kids on policies.
I do think Obama’s second approach was the better one: requiring insurance companies to offer the coverage rather than requiring the religious institutions to include it. Because this is about public health, which is the business of government. Not religion, which is the business of churches. If a church cannot reconcile itself to federal law in this regard, it can just not offer health insurance at all. That would be one way they could exercise their freedom of religion—though they might have some trouble attracting employees.
A very free-market conservative solution, I would say. What, no applause?
Under the current proposal, health insurance companies are effectively being told they cannot discriminate against a class of people (women) by denying them basic health care. Fine. That way contraception is being made fairly available to all women, and they can each decide, based on their own health and religious considerations whether or not to use it. (I note that is what the majority of even Catholic women do anyway.)
Am I being paranoid?
Well, when you consider all of the above, why exactly, would anyone want to deny contraceptive coverage to any woman? There is no medical, societal, or economic reason to do so. None. That leaves only morality-slash-religion. Or flat-out discrimination against women. Or both. Clearly, there is an agenda at work here.
If Rick Santorum wants to have seven kids, that’s up to him, his God, and most importantly, his wife. But, strangely enough, I am deeply suspicious when a sanctimonious twerp like him starts talking about birth control being “unhealthy.” Oh, really? I suspect, mister, that you are, in fact, attempting to impose your personal religious beliefs on me.
And I am not OK with that.
On a related note, when Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell supports a law that would require a completely unnecessary medical procedure in order for a woman to obtain a legal abortion, then I know what I’m looking at. An attempt on the part of a graduate of televangelist Pat Robertson’s university, who wrote extensively in his graduate thesis about how birth control and women’s rights were undermining society (read more here) to put women back in their place. A place in which their bodies are subject to political penetration, so to speak. Based on his personal religious universe, in which both abortion and contraception are bad—which doesn’t even make sense!
I have some experience with these ultrasounds, because that’s how they look at the bumps on my ovaries. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them “state-sponsored rape” but they are very uncomfortable, certainly intrusive, and just a really weird thing for a government to impose on women. I was not, and am not OK with that, and I’m not OK with the amended bill, either. It still forces doctors to perform a medically unnecessary procedure for purely political reasons. And only on women. Whose insurance companies may or may not cover the procedure, because guess what? It’s medically unnecessary. And insurance companies, unlike politicians, generally work with the facts.
This is so very, very wrong.
When I look at some of the other people who are pushing this agenda, like Foster Friess, a big Santorum supporter who really, seriously made that remark about “gals” putting aspirin between the knees, or Rush Limbaugh, whose comments about “co-eds” are so idiotic and offensive as to not be worth repeating on this blog, well, all I can say is I KNOW these guys. As women, we’ve all met a few. And it is not about “freedom of religion” for them—unless there is some Church of the Sexist Porker of which I am unaware. It’s just about being a jerk and a dinosaur, (and probably terrified of women). There is no reason to take people like that seriously, or expect that you’ll ever be able to reason with them. The only thing you can do with these a**holes is out-learn them, out-earn them, outvote them, and eventually outlive them.
Am I anti-religion? An atheist?
In case anyone’s wondering, I do not attend church, but I am a believer. My family roots are in the Baptist and Methodist churches, and I grew up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt. I have a tremendous respect for the good that churches do, in both individual and community life.
However, on the flip side, having grown up in an environment heavily populated with fundamentalist evangelicals, and then attended a Catholic university (that offered plenty of beer but no birth control counseling to students) I am quite wary of those who think they have a religious duty to tell other people how to live, and are willing to trample on the First Amendment in pursuit of their own salvation. I know ‘em when I see ‘em, and I’m seeing plenty of them now.
And I am not OK with that.
Zip back three years… I thought part of the idea of ObamaCare was to require that certain treatments (like birth control) be part of all policies. Oh yes, that got raped too, and is likely to be murdered if the wrong person is elected president.
Thank you for sharing all of these thoughts with us. This is a hard topic, because there are different views, but I won’t impose my beliefs on anyone if they do not try to impose theirs on me. If I say I am a pre-choice atheist (who marched beside her mother in pro-choice protests, back when we called them pro-abortion marches), that doesn’t mean I ever want a woman to have to have one. It only means I want abortions to be available without unnecessary pain or recriminations.
I really wish I was in the U.S. to watch Rachel Maddow respond to all of this. And I completely agree with the shared meme. And all of your blog posts on this subject. As does my mother, who has been reading your posts as well and getting fired up all over again in a new era of the same fight. Thank you for all you’ve said on the subject and the debate it has inspired.
You can watch Rachel online if you like, or listen to her podcast. http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/.
I have noticed that older women are, if possible, even MORE pissed off than my own generation…
WOW!!! I think you should run for office. We need more brave, articulate, committed women out there representing our needs and our rights! You have what it takes.
Aw, shucks 😉 Speech writer, maybe…
Bravo! Rage on!
Kelly, your arguments are articulate, sound, and compelling. I am so thankful for your voice in this debate.
Wow, you said everything I have been thinking and saying in the last week, though you did a much better job expressing it. I have never before been very politically involved but this, this is just too much to let go. I live in Virginia and I can’t believe we have these elected officials. I too have had a transvaginal ultrasound. Wasn’t the worst experience of my life, but it is very strange and very intrusive and I’d be pissed if I was forced to have it. Imagine had a rape victim been put through that – the thought makes me livid. Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum, Governor McDonnell – where do these people come from. They should be ashamed of themselves – this is clearly just a woman’s problem because men aren’t involved at all in that whole getting pregnant thing, right???
Thanks, Kelly. Great post on a really important topic . . . I think Santorum’s trying to draw out the extreme religious vote by getting in the media limelight, but he’s angering a whole heckofalota people in the process. It’s pure ridiculousness for a man to try to say this stuff. And you’re right: just because we believe or don’t believe something doesn’t mean that we have to impose that on somebody else. The principle here is freedom. I found a great speech by Obama on the separation of church and state. I’m going to post it on my blog tomorrow.