Trigger warning for mentions of rape and stupid politicians.
In the last several months, we’ve heard a lot about “legitimate rape,” how women’s bodies are supposed to have magical properties to prevent pregnancy from rape, and that babies resulting from rape are ordained by God. There’s also an ongoing battle over women’s reproductive rights, which is no longer about abortion but about birth control and women’s health services generally.
There is a clear link between the denial of reproductive care to women and the denial of women’s sexual agency. When we feel the need to ask whether or not a rape was legitimate, or whether a woman is making up a story for revenge/attention, or what her state of being was at the time of the rape, then we are essentially saying that women don’t have any power over their own bodies or choices. It becomes okay to suggest that a woman is responsible for the crimes committed against her. “Legitimate rape” becomes “legitimized rape”—not a criminal act but a justifiable act.
In the same way, the denial of care and reproductive services to women is a refusal to acknowledge that women have choice and sexual freedom in the same way men do. The people arguing that women should have to pay for their birth control are failing to understand one simple thing. If women had access to inexpensive, over-the-counter birth control, we wouldn’t even be having this argument. Anyone can walk into the drug store and buy a box of condoms*. Heck, you can buy them just about anywhere, and they aren’t particularly expensive (even the “fancy” kinds). Spermicide is also readily available. But nearly all birth control for women is available only by prescription, and it’s costly. When I was on the pill, I was shilling out $25 per month, and that was for the generic kind, with the bulk of the cost covered by insurance. Semi-permanent birth control, such as IUDs, can cost as much as $1000. That’s in the range of $100-$200 per year, but it must be paid up front.
I’ve been pondering this because the reality is that there is no escape from biology. Human beings are capable of reproduction in the same way that all living things make more of themselves. We happen to reproduce in a way that is (supposed to be) mutually enjoyable. And unlike non-humans, we don’t just engage in mindless sexual activity driven by instinct. We have the ability to choose our mates based on more than who’s in heat or has some feature required for the survival of the species. That means that we can think about and choose our partners. It also means that we can make choices about what we do with our bodies within those relationships, which includes the choice to have or not have children.
I have yet to hear anyone raging about the morality of anyone picking up a box of Trojans during their weekly shopping run. But the outcry against women having birth control readily available to them has been huge and public. I can’t help thinking that this has more to do with the continued forced control of women’s bodies than with any moral viewpoint or freedom of religion.
Without access to birth control, it makes it easier for those in power to control abortions. If prescription methods are too costly, and abortions become legally unavailable, then what we have are women who are forced back into an era in which women have no sexual agency. (And for the record, this includes married women.) We are left with few options: Rely on men to use condoms (good luck with that when he’s a rapist); accept pregnancy as often as it results (there are a number of problems with this); attempt to use some form of natural birth control (which can inhibit satisfying intimacy between partners); or resort to dangerous and illegal abortions. In any case, women are no longer in control of our own bodies and sexuality; we are still at the mercy of someone else making choices for us.
I hope that the end result of this will not be to continue to spin our wheels talking about whether or not insurance should cover birth control. It would be far better if we found a way to make women’s reproductive care more accessible and affordable. We deserve better.
*If you’re in a non-monogamous relationship, or even engaging in serial monogamy, you should be using condoms anyway, regardless of the availability of other forms of birth control. I know too many people who have gotten sick from partners who swore up and down that they were clean. Public service announcement over.