We deserve better

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.

5 thoughts on “We deserve better

  1. You have set up several straw men here and done a wonderful job of knocking them down. Unfortunately, you have ignored the real arguments. Let’s examine them. . .

    You state that when we feel the need to ask if a woman is making up a story for revenge/attention then we are saying a woman does not have any power over her body or choices. This is just not accurate. We feel the need to ask if a woman is making up a story for revenge/attention because women do, unfortunately, make up a story for revenge/attention. I personally defended a young teen who made up a story about her father abusing her. She told someone a story and the entire thing got out of hand. Both I and the District Attorney had a long talk with this girl about the fact that, when women make up stories they not only hurt the person they wrongly accuse, but they hurt real victims of real sex crimes.

    I counsel churches about child protection policies. I encourage churches to adopt policies where no adult is ever alone in a room with a child. The reason is not only for the child’s protection but also for the protection of the adult and the ministry. A false allegation will ruin a ministry and a person’s reputation just as fast as a true one. Questioning a woman’s story is not about taking power away from the woman any more than questioning the victim of any other crime.

    You then go on to argue about the denial of care to women. You set up a straw man (implicitly) that there are people arguing that either women should not have access to contraception or that they should have to pay for it themselves. Who are these people who deny care to women? Who is trying to prevent women from having access to birth control? Who argues that a woman must pay for such contraception themselves? Why is it that insurance policies must cover contraception for women, but not for men? I have followed the political discussion the past few months (and years) probably closer than most and I have not heard anyone arguing that women should not have access to birth control. I have not heard anyone arguing that no insurance policy should cover women’s contraception. Who are these people who are making these arguments?

    The arguments I have hears are that insurance companies should not be forced to cover birth control if the insurance company does not want to for whatever reason. Insurance policies provided by the Catholic Church for example should not be required to cover birth control because the Catholic Church opposes birth control. No one in the Catholic Church says you are not allowed, if your conscience allows, to go get it on your own. They simply do not want to violate the tenants of their faith and pay for it. Should you disagree, you are free not to become a Catholic. You are free to find a job or go to school somewhere else. Unless you can convince me that there are people out there who are not Catholic who can only find jobs with the Catholic Church, I seriously do not have a problem with the Catholic Church not offering insurance policies that do not cover birth control.

    You say that the outcry against women having access to birth control has been huge and public. Agin I ask, who are these people who argue that women should not have access to birth control? Are these the same people who argue that I should not have access to dental care because dental insurance costs me more? I must either pay the added premium for dental care or pay out of pocket to get my teeth clean. Are you saying that there are people there who argue that we should not have access to dental care? Or what about men? I have never seen an insurance policy that covers condoms. Does this mean that there are people out there who think that men should not have access to birth control devices as well? It seems that you are stretching some.

    You argue that “if prescription methods are too costly”. How costly is too costly? You argue this but give no real data on how much birth control costs. Here is a recent US News article that gives the cost to various methods. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/alpha-consumer/2012/03/05/the-real-cost-of-birth-control

    Many methods are under $100 per year. That is a lot less than a dental cleaning every six months yet most people do not have insurance to cover dental visits. Are you really arguing that for lack of $100 per year women are robbed of their “sexual agency?” How much more accessible and affordable does it need to be in order for women to feel they have choice over their own bodies? Should I feel like I do not have a choice over my own mouth because without insurance I would be required to pay more out of pocket for my own dental cleanings than a woman might have to pay for birth control?

    And, where is it written (prior to Obamacare) that any employer must provide health insurance for their employees at all? My last employer was another attorney. He did not provide benefits for any of his employees. I think I made the third employee, but none of us were covered. Did I really lose control over my own health care decisions because I was forced to pay for them out of pocket? No. In fact, I found that most health care providers actually charged less for self pay patients. Insurance companies get charged more because that is what insurance companies will pay. When you pay yourself you actually have more control because you can go to who you want and negotiate services for a different price. When you are insured, it is less control because you have to go to a provider “in network” and the provider charges what the insurance company will pay. We accept less choice because we are not paying for it. But the bottom line is that ultimately, insurance companies provide less choice, not more.

    And finally, why should insurance companies be required to cover birth control for everyone? There are many women (my wife being one of them) who no longer need birth control. Yet our insurance policy covers it just the same. Shouldn’t we be able to go to the insurance company and say we don’t need specific services, let’s forego them and maybe you could charge us less? If you want access to birth control and you want it covered by insurance, you are free to find an employer who provides an insurance policy that covers it. But if you don’t need birth control or if you are willing to cover the cost on your own, why should you be forced to have an insurance policy that covers birth control? We do not make owners of Ford Focuses purchase auto insurance that covers the replacement costs of a BMW, why should health insurance be different?

  2. “I counsel churches about child protection policies. I encourage churches to adopt policies where no adult is ever alone in a room with a child.”

    I agree with Adam’s counsel and would like to add that churches should be required to have two adults (one male and one female) in a room where there are children – such as in Sunday school. I would also suggest that the room be audio and video monitored just in case there is a problem.

    • Audio and video monitoring is good, but you can’t monitor every room in the church. Such becomes very cost prohibitive. Additionally, you can’t monitor bathrooms. There are many ways to protect yourself that are just too expensive. Background checks are good and are becoming less expensive, but some churches just don’t have the budget. It is sad the world we live in where 1) people would prey on children and just as sad that 2) children would, for whatever reason, make up allegations. But, as they say, you can either curse the darkness or light a candle. Churches need to protect themselves and their children.

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