On February 1st, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood emphasized that women should be allowed to access birth control at no cost regardless of where they work. While her argument was raised in an effort to reiterate the importance that employers not be allowed to exempt themselves from mandates from the Affordable Care Act due to personal religious beliefs, it is just another dispute in the conversation surrounding access to birth control pills. Understandably, when it comes to birth control, Cecile Richards is going to stand behind ease of access and affordability, but I begin to worry about the effect of these kinds of arguments arguments on the broader American public.
As a young woman of reproductive age, living on a modest income, I fully support free birth control. However, the conversation around contraception has to shift to focus on how we will properly educate people to protect themselves against STIs and unintended pregnancies, with or without free birth control.
While conversations about free birth control are great — and they make for an idealistic reproductive rights landscape — they paint a heteronormative, ableist picture of sex education and reproductive justice. Not all individuals engage in sexual activity that warrants them needing free birth control pills. There need to be discussions about easy and discreet access to condoms, lubricants and dental dams as well.
During election season, there was a lot of discussion about the need to abolish prescription requirements for hormonal birth control. Supporters of such a measure argued that this would allow for a reduction in the number of unintended pregnancies, which would in turn reduce the number of abortions. But with so much of our public sex education geared towards promoting abstinence, including programs that often include false statistics and misrepresentations of the efficacy of STI and pregnancy prevention measures, how effective would over-the-counter birth control be?
Furthermore, while so much of the reproductive rights movement is geared towardspreventing pregnancy, so many of our schools continuously provide youth with incorrect information, and as the mainstream media continues to glamorize sex, unrestricted access to birth control could be a recipe for disaster.
Recently, the FDA gave the go-ahead to a Pennsylvania university seeking to offer emergency contraception pills in vending machines. Although I consider myself to be a sex-positive feminist, the thought of poorly informed college students inserting crinkled dollars into a vending machine for Plan B concerns me. While these machines are to be located health centers — and quick access to Plan b is often critical in preventing pregnancy — I would like to see more assurance that the pills are accompanied by proper education.
In the midst of fighting for and securing reproductive freedoms, I fear that the movement might be losing its focus. First and foremost, access to education in safe, private environments is key. As a woman with a heart condition, not all methods of birth control are correct for me. However, without open conversations with physicians (such as those that occur before writing a prescription), I would never have learned this key information.
When Planned Parenthood's funding is threatened because they perform abortions (though not with federal monies), why aren't we putting equal pressure on our schools to provide accurate sexual health information for our tax dollars? Now more than ever, it is imperative that we secure proper education for communities engaging in sexual activity.