Why Affordable Birth Control Is A Life Or Death Issue

Survival is now an option

by laura studarus

My best friends through most of my twenties were Vicodin and carbs. They were my tools to survive my period, a violent multi-week event that, if it didn’t leave me passing out, certainly meant pressing pause on my social, academic, and professional life in favor of curling up in bed in order to fight off the waves of childbirth-like contractions that swept through my body for weeks at a time.

Being a researcher by nature, I Googled like a champ and took everyone’s advice, flirting with every so-called cure. The month I went cold turkey on sugar I ended up in the emergency room. The month I tried “women’s tea” I puked from the pain in the bathroom at my internship. My month on the pill? That left me in a depression so deep that all I could do was sleep and sob. And because the heating pad I tried couldn't actually burn a hole straight into my pelvis and remove the offending organ, it did me no good.  

When I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis (six doctors and a half-decade later), I cried tears so big and ugly the nurse made me visit a psychiatrist before I was allowed to leave. It was a strangely happy moment. You can’t fix something that doesn’t have a name, and suddenly I had a treatment plan in the form of a Mirena IUD. It seemed absurd that this tiny twist of metal could change my life. But today, almost a decade removed from being physically held hostage from my own body, I can say it did. 

My story has a happy ending. But that could easily change if the Affordable Care act is repealed and replaced with an insurance system that doesn’t cover birth control. I’ve already been gaslighted by medical professionals telling me my pain wasn’t real or that I was overreacting to something that “all women” experience. And now history is repeating itself within the political community that seems intent on restricting women’s access to birth control, strictly framing the argument as their right to “not fund someone’s sex life.”

What’s scary is that this mindset seems to be the new prevailing norm. Tom Price, Present-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services suggested in 2012 that women’s access to affordable birth control was a nonissue, despite a 2010 survey conducted by Planned Parenthood which showed that one-third of women struggled to pay for even low-cost options.

And yet: “Bring me one woman who has been left behind,” Price told Think Progress. “Bring me one. There’s not one. The fact of the matter is this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”

Please don’t tell me my illness or treatment is an offense to freedom or liberty. I didn’t choose to have a uterus, and now I’m in danger of being penalized for having a faulty one. Are politicians really going to limit my ability to fix it because I might also be using my lady bits for sex? (Which—for the record—sex is the last thing on my mind when I'm in that much pain.) Framing birth control as superfluous is an insult to the estimated one in 10 women in the U.S. alone who suffer from a disease so painful that getting out of bed can be a nonstarter. (And those numbers are just for the endometriosis community—let’s not forget all those who have discovered birth control is the only answer to their migraines, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and anemia.)   

Last week, conservative blogger Matt Walsh further drove home the idea that birth control is a luxury with a string of tweets that began with the damning declaration, “If you actually cannot afford birth control then you are not nearly mature or responsible enough to be having sex in the first place.” When confronted by those who pointed out that birth control doesn’t always mean a quick trip to a local drugstore or low-cost health clinic for condoms, he doubled down on his original statement, mocking  those who dared to disagree by dismissively writing, “I can’t afford birth control because my data fees are too high!” Walsh also posed the fallacious argument that he knows many people who raise children on a limited income so a single person can afford birth control. 

Added to the list of things we shouldn’t have to remind people about during this weird chapter of history: A person’s financial standing is in no way indicative of their maturity or their ability to handle responsibility. One of the first lessons we all learn as adults in America is that no matter how hard we work, none of us are entitled to an easy life or a monetarily stable existence. But this isn't about being wealthy; it's about basic health care that is enjoyed by millions of Americans who are lucky enough to get health insurance through their jobs. Arguing that the rights of all Americans (not just the lucky ones) to basic preventative health care—be it sexual or pain prevention—is not guaranteed only serves to further marginalize and even demonize the poor.

And let's be practical here: For most young women who don't have the safety net of a job with insurance benefits, making ends meet while keeping our reproductive systems in check is a tricky business. Since Walsh refuses to offer up any numbers, I will. The average one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles hovers around $2,014 per month; in New York City, it’s $2,200; and even in Austin, Texas, it’s $1,100. On average, an IUD costs between $500 and $1,000. Yes, an IUD is a long-term option, so the yearly rate works out to be closer to $100, but the money still needs to be paid up front, and that amount works out to be a significant portion of a person's living expenses in a time where most millennials have less than a $1,000 in savings—if they have a savings account at all. The fact that it's women who are asked to bear the brunt of this cost is no accident; men sign the bills restricting access to health care because it's women who ultimately pay the cost.

It's a scary fight that Republicans are happy to wage right now, and it's one that uterus owners below the poverty line will lose if everything goes Republicans' way. The party that once worked so hard to connect the words “Obamacare” to “death panels” is now making women's lives substantially more difficult, and even putting them in direct jeopardy. Republicans are refusing to understand that accessible health care is not about asking the government to pay for shoes, luxury coffee drinks, or even the data plan on my outdated smartphone; it's about not going into debt while controlling pain so intense that experts have compared it to having a heart attack. Treatment for a chronic, life-long disease that affects reproductive health should be treated just as seriously as heart disease or brain cancer, and yet it's not, at least in part because it is related to the sexuality of women, something which terrifies conservatives more than death itself. 

There are a few bright points on the horizon. The state of New York has opted to cover birth control even if the ACA and its section about “preventative health benefits” are redefined or demolished. California, Vermont, Illinois, and Maryland are also among the states slated to make similar moves. But many women still stand to fall through the cracks. To those who are in the unfortunate position of determining our nation’s future policies, I ask them to please remember that a person’s ability to make sexual decisions for themselves isn’t the only thing at stake here; without affordable birth control, it's our very quality of life that we're set to lose.