Friday, March 23, 2007

Until women can control their own fertility...

In honor of women's history month, I'd like to bring up a rarely mentioned figure in reproductive rights history, Margaret Sanger.

While she is a controversial figure, I myself and many other women owe a great debt to her.

I cannot imagine a world where I wasn't able to choose and plan when my children would be born. I come from a line of very strong women who bore lots of children. But I knew, even as a young person, that I didn't have to be that way. I could choose when I had children. I could have a career. I didn't have to have children if I didn't want them, but could still be a whole person.

I can't imagine where we would be as a society without safe and effective methods of birth control that are widely distributed.

Yet we have a long way to go.

The available birth control methods are not always subsidized by insurance. Many insurance companies do cover some birth control methods and it has come a long way. Yet most methods involve women taking the responsibility to either take the pill or remember the appointment for the iud or depo shot. The male pill is still out in the realm of theory - it has side effects that prevent it from being widely adapted. So there is a lack of funding for innovative birth control methods and a lack of support for the ones that exist.

However, not all American women have insurance or have access to insurance. Planned Parenthood (the organization that grew out of the American Birth Control League that Margaret Sanger founded) is not fully funded. Until their offices are open within a reasonable distance for couples, on public transportation and open on nights and weekends, there is more that can be done.

And as I brought up on a bulletin board earlier this week, why isn't birth control free or low cost for all Americans?

We all benefit from parents deciding when they are ready to be parents. Not that planning is the only thing that makes a good parent - but there are plenty of parents who abuse and neglect their children - who shouldn't have been parents in the first place. Maybe access to free birth control would help. Maybe it wouldn't.

Many people might argue that it would only increase the federal debt and the federal government. To some extent, I understand this point. Yet we already pay for the medical care for mothers without insurance (in most states), we pay for the child's education and for foster care if the parents are not fit parents. Not that all unplanned pregnancies end up with children in the juvenile detention system or prison - but I wouldn't be surprised to find that many of them had been abused or neglected growing up.

It seems to me that if any person knows that they are not ready to be a parent, and wants to use birth control, that as a society we should support them.

The flip side of this is some of the controversy of Margaret Sanger, who also promoted eugenics and social engineering. I am not suggesting that we force anyone to use birth control or force sterilization. In reading some of the theory of eugenics, I'm a little disgusted.

Unfortunately, universal birth control proposals seem intertwined with this idea. That by distributing free or low cost birth control, we are somehow encouraging people to not have children, to not grow their communities. That we are reverting to the bad old days of forced sterilization or welfare benefits tied to fertility.

I don't know how we would do it, but we would have to separate these ideas in the social consciousness. If this proposal were to work, we would need to build safe guards into the program to prevent these abuses.

There is a strong religious lobby that prevents any proposals to beef up planned parenthood or subsidize birth control in the U.S. I feel that those of us who oppose that lobby should speak up.

And if you disagree with my theories, please feel free to say so. Obviously, it's not a popular idea or it would have happened already.

Bravo to Margaret Sanger - but we have a long way to go.


Anonymous said...

Yes! And how about those who protest abortion outside planned parenthood clinics, trying to prevent patients from entering? Do they have alternate facilities that provide free birth control? Healthcare for low income women? Sex education? HIV prevention?

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed. Amen to all you say.

Aerin said...

NN - I am still floored by praying in front of planned parenthood. Some of those protestors seem so concerned about birth control before the child is born - but no assistance is given to the mother/family afterwards.

WC - Thanks - this is an issue I feel passionately about. Not sure why. Maybe it's because I'm the oldest of 6 kids - not that my mom didn't have access to birth control - just that I'm very familiar with child bearing and pregnancy.

I just feel it's important that those of us who are probably in the majority speak up about this topic. The minority has had the floor for too long.

Freckle Face Girl said...

This is a great post! I completely support birth control measures. Instead of stamping out abortion, why not focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies? People should still use condoms to prevent STDs, but birth control has many advantages that are not widely known. For instance, the pill actually helps preserve a woman’s eggs and prolongs fertility. I wish I would have known that in my 20s. It also minimizes the monthly issues and some can improve complexion.

Obviously, I got off on a tangent. I have been talking to my little sister (19 years old) & my mom about reasons she should be on birth control despite being a virgin. My sister actually thought that Planned Parenthood was the only place to get birth control. Sometimes naïve Mormons make me roll my eyes. I told her to go to her doctor.

jana said...

Amen to this post! Though I would be hesitant to start dispensing condoms in high schools, it would be nice if birth control was freely available to all who wanted it. So much pain could be prevented!

FWIW, my university campus gives out free condoms and lubricant at the health center (they don't even ask for ID so I suppose anyone could drop by and pick them up)--they are in bins on the front counter. I think it's an important service to have available to anyone who wants/needs it.

Gluby said...

As one person cleverly put it, religious conservatives belief the right to life begins at conception and ends at birth. When talking about fetuses, it's all about preciousness and love; when talking about post-birth human life, it's all about sin, control, victim-blaming and silent suffering.

As an interesting point, a while ago I was doing some quick refresher research on eugenics and social Darwinism, positions highly associated with conservative, orthodox, privileged Western society. I ran across several articles being put out by the religious right's propaganda machines trying to, with one fell swoop, tar abortion and the theory of biological evolution with the smear of social Darwinism and eugenics. You know how the provision of abortion services are a massive conspiracy to kill genetically-undesirable babies.

Unbelievable. It is just tragic how much unnecessary suffering is constantly brought about by forcing people to have children based on bad science, anti-rationalism and the desire to keep people in old forms of social control.