In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that women have the right to privacy in deciding on medical procedures, including abortions. Roe vs. Wade was a landmark case because it was the first time in the US that the courts stated that women had the final say over their bodies.
This concept is referred to as bodily autonomy and states that people have the right to decide what happens to their bodies. It’s why people have to sign up for organ donation, and why The Red Cross can’t force you to donate blood. It’s a good thing to have! 1973 was the first time women became full beneficiaries of the law in the same way men are.
However, it hasn’t stayed that way. Abortion, birth control, and even access to women-specific providers have continued to be a battle. Abortion is a hot-button topic because it’s seen as an extreme partisan issue, and both sides can have difficulty changing positions to see the occasional validity of the other. The others, however, shouldn’t be an issue.
Birth Control and Medicine Fraud
A surprising number of people are against birth control because they feel that the only kind of birth control people need is abstinence. But the prevention of pregnancy is not the only thing that birth control does for women.
It also helps with a huge variety of other health conditions like regulating and lightening periods, which can be lifesaving for women who become anemic during their periods. It can help migraines and acne, ease endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and it even lowers the risk of some cancers! Birth control can be the difference between someone being able to function normally and being sick or needing disability.
The pain associated with menstruation is nothing new, but medical treatment for it is. Women’s pain has been taken less seriously throughout history when compared to men. Proper care for some of these debilitating, women-specific problems has been delayed because they only affect women. Birth control has also been controlled by men, especially before any effective medications existed. Back pain is not treated as it used to be, now there is the best inversion table that people can have at home to relief the pain.
Even today, some doctors have no qualms about putting profits ahead of their female patients, especially surrounding issues like birth control. As recently as 2015, a California doctor was charged with inserting cheaper, non-government approved intrauterine devices into numerous female patients between 2008 and 2012, but billed them and their insurance companies as if he had used the device approved by the FDA. This is pharmaceutical fraud, and it is a serious crime. Cases like this can result in serious health complications in men and women alike, and it is unfortunate that this doctor and others like him still take the reproductive health and pain of women so lightly.
Access to Care
Low-income women, especially those who may be struggling to keep their health insurance have limited options. A GP or family doctor is often not trained to do more than a yearly exam, so many women choose Planned Parenthood. Some women pay more to go, some pay nothing, but everyone can be seen. Planned Parenthood is responsible for finding breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prescribing birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, and monitoring active pregnancies.
When women don’t have access to this very particular kind of care, things can go sideways. That’s why threats to defund Planned Parenthood are so significant. Women then have to rely either on their general practitioner, or they have to go to the ER or a clinic. The doctors at the hospital and clinic will not be pleased to have to deal with tasks that Planned Parenthood could be taking care of when actual emergencies need to be addressed, and it ends up being a drain on taxpayers.
However, there are also issues with going to your GP for birth control. Because they don’t specialize in it, they might be unfamiliar with a lot of the different kinds, brands and uses. An IUD is as effective as the pill but comes with different risks and benefits. Mirena, for example, has faced multiple lawsuits over side effects like excessive pain and perforation of the uterus. A GP may not be familiar enough with the differences to warn you about the side effects.
What Can Be Done
With the combined effects of women being taken advantage of, having their symptoms taken less seriously, and the political climate threatening access to care, you have the recipe for a maelstrom.
There is still a push at the state level to make birth control cheaper and more accessible. Currently, 28 states have some kind of “contraceptive equity” law in place that aims to do just that. Several other states are also beginning to consider contraceptive equity bills. With the current political climate at the federal level, it may be smart to read up on what’s going on in your own state and see how you can get involved.
There are also many organizations that work toward furthering the progress of the women’s health care movement. Visit the websites for Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women or one of the many other movements fighting for equality for all to see how you can make a difference.
And, as discussed, this advice shouldn’t just be of interest to women and liberals. Access to women-specific health care affects us all, male or female, Republican or Democrat. Lack of access to female-specific care is actually highly detrimental to men and women alike. Issues related to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and debilitating pain impact all of us. Promoting women’s health care isn’t partisan. It’s humanist.