10 May The Politics of Birth Control and Women’s Health
The Komen Foundation, long a supporter of research on breast cancer, found itself in the middle of controversy when it announced that it would no longer fund cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Many have written about this cautionary tale, yet many politicians seem to have ignored the lessons that Komen learned from this PR debacle. Political strategists often use wedge issues to motivate voters. Issues like gay marriage, anti-abortion measures and now birth control are seen as ways to motivate voters who have strong feelings about these issues. However, this is clearly not a wedge issue. Opinion polls indicate that 99% of women have used birth control, and a large majority of voters, even those who are Catholic, support the Obama administration’s position on the issue, yet the attacks continue.
Perhaps what is most perplexing is that many politicians don’t seem to understand that for many women this is a critical health issue. My own story is an example. In my mid-20s I was diagnosed with endometriosis. This was a major concern for me, since my sister had the same disease and had to have a hysterectomy on her late 20s. Fortunately she had already had 3 children at that point. I was neither married nor ready to have children so my doctor prescribed birth control pills to regulate my hormones, and hopefully protect my fertility. My insurance company refused my claim, and I had to jump through many hoops to simply get them to cover my prescription with a co-pay. Every time I changed jobs and insurance, I had to go through the same ritual. Particularly when I was in my 20s I could not afford to pay the full price for my prescription, and I may not have my two beautiful boys if I hadn’t followed my doctor’s orders. For these reasons, I am fully supportive of women being able to get a prescription for birth control at little or no cost.
Birth control pills are often used to treat endometriosis, heavy-bleeding during menstrual periods, PCOS, fibrocystic breasts, and even acne. Limiting access is very unlikely to impact sexual behavior. Using the regulation of birth control as a wedge issue can only be a losing battle. Women (and Men!) have been and will continue to be pulled from the sidelines of the political debate until the message is heard loud and clear. This is not a wedge issue – it is an assault on my health and my ability to control and protect my fertility.