By Ginny Engholm
Our sentimentalizing of pregnancy, combined with our faith in modern medicine, have contributed to a backlash against birth control, encouraging us to see pregnancy as low risk and to lose sight of its dangers and perils. Contraceptives — and legal access to them — continue to be a source of controversy, political wrangling, and ideological posturing because the political and cultural discussion surrounding them focuses on issues of personal choice and sexual mores rather than questions of health. The recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby reflects this view of birth control as a matter of religious conviction and personal choice rather than reproductive health. If pregnancy is so natural, so low risk for women, then preventing pregnancy is not a medical issue, but rather a personal decision. Even efforts to argue that women use birth control for other health reasons, such as treating PMS or endometriosis, miss the point that limiting, preventing, and spacing pregnancies are medical reasons to use birth control. The backlash against contraceptives stems, in part, from our current misguided view of pregnancy as a low risk medical event for women. The problem with this view is that pregnancy is dangerous, and medical science has a long history of revealing its risks and perils for women.
By Ian Lekus
The first I learned of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, came from the signs and postcards around Fenway Health, Boston’s LGBT community health center. Those advertisements appeared as Fenway served as one of two U.S. research sites for PrEP, in advance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving Truvada in July 2012 as the first drug deemed safe and effective for reducing the risk of HIV transmission. As I started learning more, I quickly discovered how its advocates frequently compare PrEP to oral contraceptives. One PrEP researcher I consulted with early on in my investigations explicitly drew the parallel to her decision to use the Pill a few years earlier. Some of the similarities jump out immediately: for example, like oral contraceptives, PrEP — a pill taken daily to prevent HIV infection — separates prevention from the act of sexual intercourse itself.
by Lara Freidenfelds
As we wait for the Supreme Court to render a decision on the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage case, I have been pondering the historical relationship between contraception and health care. Is it obvious that contraception should be considered part of “health care?” And would it be possible to decide that it isn’t, but still make it affordable and available? This case seems, to me, to rest largely on whether we think contraception counts as health care. The justices are wary of an outcome that would allow employers to decline to pay for blood transfusions or routine vaccinations, even if an employer might genuinely have religious reservations about those procedures. Those are clearly health care. Contraception, though, seems different. It is prescribed for healthy people, and it does not cure or prevent disease (at least not directly).
Thirty years ago I went to the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective to get fitted for a cervical cap. “What is that?” some of you might be wondering. The cervical cap is a barrier form of birth control, which fell out of favor when easier hormonal methods became more popular and more effective. It worked by… Read more →
By Heather Munro Prescott
In an effort to show links between reproductive justice and environmental justice, the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) is “calling all young people” to check a presentation on “Sex, Synthetics, and Sustainability,” on April 10 at 4:30 EST. The presentation will feature representatives from the the Sierra Club Global Population & Environment Program, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and Women’s Voices for the Earth, and special guest Stefanie Weiss, author of Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable. Now, as I’ve written elsewhere, this isn’t the first time that birth control activists have reached out to young people by appealing to their interest in protecting the environment.
By Heather Munro Prescott
Last year on my personal blog, I wrote of my disappointment that Health and Human Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius overruled a recommendation by scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and by FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that Plan B One Step be made available over-the-counter without any age restrictions. In her letter to the FDA Commissioner, Secretary Sibelius said that there were “significant cognitive differences” between older adolescents and younger ones So, if age restrictions were removed, then the drug would be available without prescription or other point of sale restrictions for even the youngest girls of reproductive age (the average age of menarche in the U.S. is 11.1 years). Never mind that only 1% of all 11 year old’s have been sexually active (and for those, “sexually active” usually means rape or incest).
This is an unprecedented move by an HHS secretary — i.e. none of her predecessors has ever overruled the FDA on a drug application. It was not the first time that “politics trumped science” when it came to emergency contraception (give background).(during the George W. Bush administration, the problem was the FDA Commissioner).
By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
My sophomore year of high school, the French teacher taught my English literature class. At some point in the semester we had to give a five minute persuasive speech on any topic of our choosing. Mine was “Why There Should Be Condom Dispensers in the School Bathrooms.” I do not remember the response of my classmates, but I will never forget what my teacher said, even before I had reached my seat: “Caroleeen, I had no idea you were that kind of girl.”In my mind, I flipped him off. In actuality, I just sat down.
Like many graduate students, I obsess about my particular academic interests and have a hard time letting them go at the end of the day. I happen to study the history of women and medicine in the United States, so I see my specialization everywhere, often to the dismay of my friends and family. I interrupt movies to point out inaccuracies and anachronisms, and I offer unsolicited historical commentary about the depictions of women on Mad Men. I lecture people about the stupidity of 1950s nostalgia, and I get angry about advertisements for Dr. Pepper. I am, in short, lots of fun at parties.
By Jacqueline Antonovich
I recently read Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion, a fascinating biography by historian Jean H. Baker. As a historian of gender and medicine, I thought I knew all about Sanger and her quest to make birth control legal and accessible to the women of America; however, I found myself utterly shocked by one simple fact from Sanger’s background – her mother, Anne, was pregnant eighteen times in twenty-two years, which resulted in eleven live births.