Feminist Friday: “Reproductive Healthcare” Isn’t Just about Reproduction

I used birth control long before I had sex. Years before, in fact. Why? And why am I opening with such a personal statement? Because for the better part of my adult life, I have needed birth control pills to treat heavy periods that lasted 7-8 days and PMDD.  Starting a week or so before my period, I experience severe mood swings. My panic attacks worsen.  I get irritable and angry. I have, in the past, had a Xanax prescription just for these weeks, to take away the crying jags and heart-in-throat panic attacks. Those make me tired, though, and the PMDD on its own makes me lethargic. A day or two into my period, the PMDD slows down, but then I’m stuck with cramps and a heavy flow for another 5 days or so. And I don’t mean little stomach cramps—I mean that my stomach and back hurt so badly that moving is excruciating and neither stretching out or curling up in the fetal position provides relief. I mean it feels like someone is squeezing my internal organs.

Except when I’m on birth control. The pill doesn’t fix every symptom, but it does stabilize hormone levels that would otherwise make the PMDD worse, and it does shorten my period from 7/8 days to just 4. It allows me to function with fewer panic attacks and less pain. It prevents me needing other medications for those panic attacks and that pain. In saying that a business can legally refuse to pay for medicines it objects to on religious grounds, the courts just told me that the beliefs of a corporation are more important than my right to health care.

The Hobby Lobby v Burwell decision threatens the way women access healthcare. It shifts responsibility for costs, and it does so at the expense of its female employees’ health. I’m not going to spend much time discussing the Hobby Lobby case, but if you want a run-down, you should see Gene’O’s brief and his follow-up. It’s the biggest SCOTUS case to affect women’s healthcare since Roe v. Wade, in all likelihood. With over 140 similar suits sitting around and a clear message already sent that this can and will apply to all forms of prescription birth control, this is a huge precedent.

This is a ruling that sends a loud-and-clear message: women’s healthcare is not a priority, and science doesn’t matter. (Notice that I’m not calling it “reproductive healthcare”? That’s because it’s not just about reproducing. My reproductive system is part of me. It is not something that can be separated out.) While Viagra and vasectomies are covered by most insurance plans and paid for by employers (including Hobby Lobby), they do not have quite the list of uses that birth control has (heavy or irregular period stabilization, treatment of PMS/PMDD, lowering risks of ovarian and cervical cancers, and the list goes on.)

I think it’s past time to change the conversation we have about birth control. It’s time to be serious about challenging the ways that women’s healthcare is limited or encroached upon. Five male justices just made a decision that limits women’s healthcare.

Has this affected you or someone close to you? What has been your experience with the ruling? Do you expect to be affected by it? Please share your thoughts with us.

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37 Comments

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  1. I also take the pill for medical reasons and I think sometimes people forget that it’s not just used to prevent getting pregnant. I’m lucky I work for a privately owned company that has some common sense.

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    1. Ye, I think that people forget all too often that the pill isn’t just used for pregnancy prevention. I do agree with some of our other commenters, too, though, that ultimately it shouldn’t matter whether it’s used for pregnancy prevention or some other reason–when it comes to insurance coverage, it should just be covered always.

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  2. So there is a part of me that wants to comment, but I really do not know what to say. We are pointing to this moment right here and right now and I think a lot has led up to this moment that had nothing to do with women’s right to health care and all to do with the fact that health care in this country does not work. Personally I am not all for government run health care because I personally do not fully trust our government to do it properly. I also have seen it at work in Denmark, Germany, England, and Australia and I am not exactly impressed with the way they handle things either.

    So I don’t know what to say. All I know is nothing I am hearing sounds right from either side, which is really frustrating to me. So I am sorry I don’t have much to say because I think these discussions are important. At the same time I do not like commenting on something when I do not feel I have enough information and in this instance that is where I am at.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t have much more to say than I’ve said already myself. That’s one reason I didn’t take another turn and respond to a bunch more comments yesterday after I re-read the thread. I agree that what we’re doing now doesn’t work, and that a lot has led up to it that had nothing to do with women’s healthcare, specifically.

      My concern with the right here, right now situation is that it affects women’s health care going forward, and it singles out one part and makes it subject to an exemption that’s based entirely on beliefs.

      I wouldn’t be for the government just taking over healthcare and running it. But I do think a regulatory framework is needed, and the one we have isn’t working. I don’t have any answers at all on that larger issue. We’re in the same boat on that one — not enough info to comment. But I do know what I want, and it boils down to two things:

      1. Essential medical treatments, by which I mean treatments for conditions that impair peoples’ ability to function, but can be managed with medical care, should be as accessible to people with modest incomes (or no incomes) as they are to wealthy people and people who have good medical benefits.

      2. Whatever laws or policies we eventually decide on should be applied equitably.

      I’m very frustrated about this issue as well, but for different reasons than the ones you’ve shared.

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  3. I use birth control partly as a means to regulate my cycle, but preventing pregnancy is also a form of healthcare. If I were to have a child right now, I wouldn’t be able to take care of it properly, and I’d much rather stop a pregnancy in the first place than bring an unhealthy child into this world. I think the Hobby Lobby ruling is ridiculous, but luckily it didn’t affect me personally so I can continue to receive the type of healthcare that is right for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks, everyone, for your comments so far. It’s a bit late and both Diana and I have had things come up today that have kept us from being as active as we usually are. Nothing bad and no worries — just normal old life. Diana’s out of pocket tomorrow, but I’ll re-read the thread first thing when I get started tomorrow, and will be around to moderate first-time comments and chatter on the threads on Saturday afternoon.

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  5. I’m so glad this is the topic this week. I too had to go on the pill at a young age. I was 13. Years before I was sexually active. And there are a host of issues that are treated by the pill. But, as J said, why does it matter? I mean, are we not at a point in our society where we can say “I need to be on the pill because I like to have sex for reasons other than procreation.” And therein lies the problem. I know some people who have become more fundamental or radical in their religious beliefs who say that any form of birth control is a sin. Simply because they interpret the Bible to say that sex should be for procreation only. And if that’s how they want to live, fine, but don’t impose that on me.

    In an earlier FF discussion Gene’O said that we haven’t progressed much in 10 years. I agreed with him and suggested we may be going backwards. With this ruling and the laws that have closed Planned Parenthoods around the country because they aren’t affiliated with hospitals (most of whom are also giant corporate fat cats) I would say that there is a definite backwards slide beginning. My hope is that this ruling was so obviously an intrusion into women’s health care that more people will actually care and vote based on this issue.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yes. I appreciate J’s comment very much, and I think we can safely say we’re going backwards now. I’ve been careful to say “I’ve not seen progress” up to this point because I was hoping someone would show me some evidence of progress, and because I haven’t had any evidence to make the bolder claim. I count this decision as evidence, and thanks for mentioning the Planned Parenthood. That makes two pieces of evidence.

      I’ll go you a step further and say you shouldn’t even have to say why you need them. If a doctor prescribes them, your insurance provider should pay for them without any special special arrangement between the provider, payer, and government. Your medical info is supposed to be confidential anyway. No one is supposed to have the right to ask why you need them. No one is even supposed to know what you’re taking unless you consent to them having that information.

      The only reason we’re even having this conversation is because people are using abortion arguments to justify not paying for medical treatments that Ob/Gyns say AREN’T EVEN ABORTIONS. I just had to use the all-caps to highlight the stupidity of it all.

      I’m glad this is the topic, too, I just hate it’s under these circumstances. I’ve been wanting to talk about this part of it from the beginning, but haven’t known how to do it in a way that would both get people to talk and not create too many divisions. My own opinions on the entire range of issues this encompasses are very strong, so I have to be careful. I think Diana’s succeeded on both counts this week.

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      1. You are right to bring that up. In this case, the fact that it’s medical and prescribed by a doctor seems to be completely forgotten. And the bond between doctor and patient is getting crowded.

        Please, feel free to correct me on any points…I thought the point of insurance was to help you pay for things. We, as a society, realized that healthcare could be expensive, but those expenses came from different places at different times for different people. So with healthcare (at least in this country), we pay in to our pool, and sometimes, so does our employer, regularly.

        When we have to pay for something healthcare-related, prescribed by a doctor, we turn to our insurance. We say, “Hey, this is why I have you. Our contract says that this is the time you help me,” and (begrudgingly) they help with the cost. Because healthcare is expensive.

        I don’t see why people think birth control should be treated any differently. Is it healthcare-related? Yes. Is it prescribed by a doctor. Yes. Is it expensive. Yes. “Hey, insurance! This is why I have you.”

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I don’t see anything to correct there. I say righty-o. I have the same understanding of insurance.

          The whole point of it is to prevent an expensive medical treatment from forcing people to choose between financial ruin or having to deal with a treatable condition that prevents them from functioning properly. At least that’s what I think. Singling out one category of treatments like this is bad.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I was placed on birth control to help regulate my period. Back in college i was diagnosed with PCOS, I can’t spell it out, so you’ll have to research it to know all the details that includes. It’s a pretty private part of my life, but given how you have shown some of yours, I thought i’d throw in my own experience.

    Basically, my egg wasn’t leaving my overies, I had too much testosterone in my body and not enough estrogen, I was not getting my period. I mean not at all. I was place don the pill to help get my period back on track, I only had to take it for six months, but there was a use for it that didn’t include sex, so I agree that there is more to the pill than birth control.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks very much for sharing your experience on this thread. Diana and I have both been out of pocket most of the day, unexpectedly so, otherwise one of us would’ve answered earlier in the day. I don’t really have anything to add other than that, and I appreciate you stopping by and reading!

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  7. At the risk of crossing lines, I’m just going to say it. I don’t care why you want the pill, an IUD, or any of the other medical options. I feel like the argument of “but I use it for something other than birth control” is like having to justify what you were wearing at the time of sexual assault.

    You use it.
    It’s not illegal.
    It’s suppose to be covered by your health insurance.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Actually, I’m glad that you said that. I was waiting for someone to bring it up.

      And I agree with you to a very large extent. One of the major reasons that I headed into the conversation this way, though, is that other uses of the pill were ignored, which is a major problem when you’re a woman who needs the pill for those other reasons.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m really glad you did bring up your experiences in this post. And I’m glad people are commenting with their own reasons, some that I hadn’t heard of before. I’ve heard several from my friends, and the list keeps growing. It just goes to show that birth control, like other medicines, has many uses. Which I feel is like a, “Well duh,” but apparently this still needs to be explained to people. Normally–no, actually, even in this case–I think it’s important to share and constantly be learning about what other people deal with as they walk through life. The disappointment comes from having to explain it AFTER the suit, or legislation, or sweeping decree from on high that, you know, actually deals with the specific topic.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I’ll chime in with glad you said that, too. I don’t think you’re crossing the line at all.

      The fact that Diana felt she had to frame this post the way she did is very significant. She did it for the reasons stated below, and I wore myself out this week writing those two posts about the case she linked to, in part, so she wouldn’t have to deal with all that stuff in the Friday post, but would have the links to catch people up if they needed it. I was the one who had the time and the ability to do it quickly, so I did.

      We shouldn’t have to be pointing out the other uses for a medical treatment that is, as you say, legal and supposed to be covered. We shouldn’t even be having to write about this at all.

      I like the connection you make between stating the argument in these terms and justifying what you were wearing. That never occurred to me until I read your comment. I thought, as this post was being drafted, that this approach was a good idea because all these other uses have been pushed to the margins. I’m not sure how many people actually understand this part of it, and I think it needs to be discussed more widely.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Absolutely. Birth control is a necessity in a woman’s life since girlhood, sex notwithstanding. This decision goes far beyond religion and such in my opinion. It is yet another way for a certain group (corps. mostly ran by male) to control another group (women). It’s about power and who exercise it against whom.

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  9. I’m having an unexpectedly busy day, but will be around a little later.

    I think this really nails it:

    “This is a ruling that sends a loud-and-clear message: women’s healthcare is not a priority, and science doesn’t matter. (Notice that I’m not calling it “reproductive healthcare”? That’s because it’s not just about reproducing.”

    And I’ve know a LOT of women over the years who have had problems that needed to be regulated by contraception, and quite a few who have had problems because the only forms available to them (usually because of insurance rules or because they were uninsured) either didn’t adequately address their problems or had intolerable side effects.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Me, too. And Gretchen mentioned Planned Parenthood in her comment since the last time you looked in.

        I think it’s safe to shift our rhetoric from “have we made progress?” to “have we gone backwards?” as long as we’re talking about the last 10-15 years. I think we’ve gone backwards, post-2000. The 90s are a little harder to judge.

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  10. I was on the Pill and Nuvaring in the US, switched to a copper IUD in Japan, and now I’ve returned to the US, where I will probably get a new copper IUD (or a tubal ligation) once my 2-year copper IUD expires. (I’ll spare you the rant about Japan’s weird issues with non-condom birth control, but 2 years is fine for people between kids, not for child-free folks.

    Ginsberg’s comment that the cost of an IUD sans insurance is the same as a month of minimum-wages is absolutely true, and the cost with insurance can be steep. $600 (insurance price) for 10 years is cheap as hell in the long run, but not if you can’t front the money.

    Here’s the thing I don’t get though:
    The US doesn’t have a birth dearth (not that that’s an excuse anyway). We have problems funding public education. The cost of college is sky high. We don’t have universal parental leave. Some parents are barred from adoption because they’re in homogamous relationships. Adoption (process and orphanages) have huge bureaucratic issues. Abortion is becoming harder and harder to access. And of the two things that would really fix all this–safe, cheap access to doctors and birth control, and better healthcare/social services for pregnancy, postpartum, and early childhood–birth control is the easiest thing to fix. It requires no effort of employers, unlike increasing parental leave, stopping mommy-tracking, etc. and other things that do need fixing. It is between the doctor, the insurance, and the person in possession of ovaries/uterus. A person who is trying to be a responsible adult and not have a child because of a variety of reasons or a person with medical issues that birth control can fix. I don’t understand why that is so hard for SCOTUS and employers to understand.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Yes, yes. I often wonder why we aren’t doing more to provide affordable birth control and sex ed so that we can lower birth rates. Much of what we’re doing (abstinence-only education, for example) has been proven not to work—and yet we keep on.

      Liked by 4 people

  11. I have an acquaintance who needs the Mirena for severe endometriosis. She is in a position to be able to pay for it out of pocket, but she is horrified that people who have the same issue may not be, and now have to shell out $1000 just to be able to function.

    What frustrates me about this entire thing is how medically uninformed the objections are. Nobody objecting seems to understand that the Plan B doesn’t work ANYTHING like RU 486, nor do IUDs simply work by not letting tiny baby humans stick to the uterus. And they refuse to listen to the difference between stopping a pregnancy at ovulation or fertilization and stopping it at implantation. If I REALLY REALLY squint, I think I could possibly maybe buy that the objection is over the haunting screams of a zygote, but how do you try to argue against people who obstinately keep themselves ignorant?

    I myself have an IUD because I’ve had two children and I don’t want more at the moment. Thankfully my employer cares about women’s issues (they recently expanded the maternity leave policy by doubling the amount of paid leave and allowing civil partners and fathers to be eligible as well, and changed the name to Parental Leave), but if they’d looked at me and said, “Well, having sex is your choice. So don’t have sex,” I’d be furious enough to quit. If my state government suddenly told car insurance companies that they didn’t have to cover accidents that occurred during Sabbath because that’s what the insurance company believed, would anybody in their right mind say, “Well, don’t use roads then”?

    It’s terrifying how this judicial body has become a partisan legislative body.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree on the medical misinformation. One of the things that really bothers me about this case is that science had no bearing upon what was decided, and science disagrees with the religious objections.

      I’d like to think that I’d be furious enough to quit if something like this happened at my job, but I don’t know that I have that luxury—and I know that many don’t. Jobs are hard to find these days, and if we’re going to tie healthcare to job benefits, they should be fairly uniform so that everyone receives the same protection.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly, like my acquaintance who can afford the IUD, but what about others? Maybe Hobby Lobby and other Corporations With More Rights Than People are tragically the best jobs someone can find.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. I have been on birth control for ten years and for the same reasons as the ones you mentioned. Without birth control, I’m a complete mess and I don’t want to go back to the traumatic menstrual issues I had when a teenager. In France, not all birth control are covered by health care, and if you don’t do you research yourself, they only talk about the pill and sometimes the IUD. The pill (some covered by healthcare, others not) was a no go for me, as I packed on too much weight so I had to switch to the patch for a few years (which was 1) more expensive and 2) not covered by health care). In the past years, I’ve switched to the implant which I requested from my gyno, who was surprised I knew about it and wanted this. It’s cheaper, better for me and covered by health care, but I only found out it was covered by health care when I got the bill. Talk about misinformation. When I can finally move to the US, I’m definitely planning to get my implant renewed, even if a bit earlier than the 3 years, so I don’t have to bother with it and its cost after I left France.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My issues started when I was a teenager, too. From the moment I hit puberty, really.

      The IUD is one of the BC methods that Hobby Lobby objected to, and I have trouble seeing it as anything but a cost related desire for exemption. They’re expensive, and science dictates that they’re not abortifacents. That’s actually what was contended, and it was done so in a way that actual science had no bearing on the ruling—-and that’s a real problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I used to need birth control for the same reasons. Eventually I needed surgery that has regulated the periods somewhat, but I may also need to go back on birth control in the future, so Hobby Lobby worries me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve been pretty lucky not to need any kind of surgery so far, but I need the pills to regulate everything. And I’ve tried some of the more natural remedies, but none of them have worked for me.

      Up until about 10 years ago, if that, our graduate student insurance wouldn’t cover annual gyno visits. A group of women graduate students changed that, lucky for all of us. But I hope this doesn’t mean that we’re headed down that sort of road again.

      Liked by 1 person

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