I will never apologize for doing what is right for my body.
Well, maybe there’s one wrong way, I thought, inspecting my surrogate little sister’s half-used pill pack, every second or third pouch punched out like answers on a Scantron sheet. “These aren’t like Advil, babe,” I told her. “In order for them to work, you have to take them every single day.”
Any woman who has ever regularly used birth control knows that when we talk about whether or not it’s “working,” we’re not just talking about contraception. But Hobby Lobby founder David Green chose not to focus on any of these other uses when he launched his crusade against the Affordable Care Act’s provisions.
Instead, he titled his USA Today column “Christian companies can’t bow to sinful mandate,” making it abundantly clear to everyone but the hordes leaping to his defense that he believes some kinds of birth control are inherently immoral. And misplaced beliefs, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling, trump science.
Just as no one apparently told David Green that emergency contraceptive drugs and IUDs are not abortifacients, I’m guessing that he was never filled in about the multitude of reasons birth control is prescribed beyond pregnancy prevention.
The chronic pain of endometriosis, a condition where the lining of the uterus grows in other areas, is often alleviated by the estrogen and progesterone found in birth control pills. These hormones are also prescribed for the treatment and prevention of ovarian cysts, and studies have shown that oral contraception, taken over the course of several years, can cut the risk of ovarian cancer nearly in half. Because of the pill’s ability to suppress ovulation, it is frequently recommended to women who would like to lessen PMS or PMDD symptoms. And of course, it can clear up acne and chop days off of a lengthy period.
A lot of women are speaking out about these and other health problems they face every day, made bearable by birth control. And I applaud them. I’m one of them. But that in no way means contraception is comparatively unimportant, least of all a use we should apologize for.
I was diagnosed at 18 with severe dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia, two fancy words for cramps that make you want to tear your insides out and menstruation that makes the plague in Exodus look like an afternoon drizzle. The right birth control, my gynecologist assured me, would regulate my wildly unpredictable cycle and alleviate much of my pain. Without the pill, I was confined to the couch for days each month. But with the pill I was running, jumping, and smiling like the star of a tampon commercial.
I also, at 18, had my first boyfriend.
While dealing with the insurance company, I learned something very important. My birth control prescription would be covered due to my dysmenorrhea. But if I mentioned that I would additionally be using the pill for contraception, the cost would suddenly skyrocket to $90 a month. Not contraception instead of dysmenorrhea, or preventive care instead of curative. Preventative care along with the treatment of chronic pain; two birds with one prescribed stone.
Sexual activity does not negate the existence of a medical condition, but some insurance companies saw differently. Which is why the Affordable Care Act mandates that health care plans must cover contraception as part of preventative care, along with mammograms, STI screenings, and counseling. But last week’s Hobby Lobby ruling—along with the infuriating update that coverage denial can now expand to cover all forms of contraception, not just those David Green took issue with—proved that for every two steps forward, there is one step back.
Numerous times while debating the court’s decision with supporters and opponents alike, I was candid about the condition that I share with over half of all women of childbearing age. And then I had a tiny revelation: It’s bullshit. I shouldn’t have to counter the Rush Limbaugh-esque sentiment that women want someone to pay for them to have sex (which of course ignores that Viagra is covered without question) with words that imply, but I’m not like the rest of them!
Every woman, from my mother living with endometriosis to the college student who realizes that a baby is not in her plans right now, deserves access to the same care.
And even when it is used as “just” contraception, birth control prevents a condition that costs the United States billions of dollars every year. Over half of all pregnancies are unintentional, and the rate of unintended pregnancies actually rose overall by two percentage points from 2001 to 2008. In just one year—2008—the U.S. spent $12.5 billion in federal and state expenditures on unintended pregnancies.
Broader access to birth control would drastically reduce the costs of unintended pregnancies along with the costs of the medicine itself, and women would not have to play the “find a new job or health plan” game if other businesses were to follow Hobby Lobby’s lead. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and even some Republican politicians have already endorsed allowing birth control to be sold over the counter. This is not a radical idea but rather the world’s standard, as only 31% of 147 countries currently require a prescription.
The solution is right in front of our faces, yet the actions of Hobby Lobby and other employers who oppose birth control for “religious” reasons have brought us back to the same old song and dance of judging a woman’s worth by her sex life, leaving it up to religious zealots and male justices to determine whether or not she literally pays.
So when curmudgeonly politicians bark at women to just shut their legs, sorry, pregnancy is not a punishment for having sex. I will never apologize for making a decision in consultation with my doctor. I will never apologize for doing what is right for my body. And I will never, ever apologize for not adding to that $12.5 billion a year.
Chelsea Cristene is a community college professor of English and communications in Maryland. She runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen and also writes Gender on the Rocks, a blog about gender, relationships, culture, and the media. Find her on Twitter.