The Battle Over Birth Control
As threatening legislation emerges nationwide, complacency is out
Those who have been paying attention to recent political news may have noticed a trend in state legislatures across the country: the restriction of women’s reproductive rights and contraceptive access through legislation, generally sponsored by Republicans.
Many of these bills come in the wake of a mandate by the Obama administration requiring all health insurance programs to cover women’s contraception without co-pays. Many on the right felt that an included exemption for houses of worship, and an added accommodation for other religiously affiliated organizations, did not go far enough. They accused the president of violating religious freedoms, sparking a political and media firestorm across the country. From Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute”, to a Virginia bill that would have required women seeking abortions to undergo an involuntary transvaginal ultrasound to an Arizona proposal to allow employers to fire employees who use birth control for contraceptive purposes, reproductive issues are in the spotlight.
So how does all of this affect the lives of Claremont students? As Summer Dowd-Lukesh SC ’14 showed in an online Port Side article, “Contraceptives in Claremont,” 80% of respondents to an informal survey of 5C women about contraceptive use reported using some form of birth control. Students use birth control for more than contraception; ovarian cysts are only one example of a medical condition that can be treated with a birth control pill. Insurance plans providing full coverage of contraception would save Claremont students quite a bit of money, and restrictions on contraceptive access would have a negative effect on many within our community.
Beyond cost and access issues, many students think that the vitriol surrounding the contraceptive debates is dangerous and damaging. In another informal survey of 5C students, many respondents who identified as Republicans or conservatives said that even they found the implications of this Republican speech and legislation disturbing and that they did not support the undertones of sexism that these bills bring to light. As Holly Underhill SC ’13 points out, “Women have been fighting for their rights for decades. Taking away women’s reproductive rights would be a huge step backwards not only for women but for our society as a whole.”
Luckily for Claremont, California’s legislature has remained fairly free of these anti-reproductive rights bills. The lack of an immediate threat, however, does not mean that those who care about this issue should be complacent. Dowd-Lukesh explains, “If anything, the women’s health care restrictions that are occurring all over the country and being discussed practically everywhere make me grateful for the care that I can receive where I live, and reinforce the importance of vigilance in our communities. Activism should not be out of style just because it’s not the 60s.”
Partially in response to the current political atmosphere surrounding women’s issues, a chapter of Choice USA has been established at Scripps College – full disclosure, I am one of the on-campus awareness organizers for the club. One of the club’s presidents, Savannah Fitz SC ’13, sees the goal of the club as “promoting a pro-choice agenda by mobilizing… both on-campus and in the greater Southern California region to fight for reproductive health freedom.” While the club is in its early stages, it recently established a presence on campus by hosting an egg hunt, which featured plastic eggs filled with candy, condoms, and facts about reproductive rights around the country and around the world. Fitz says future plans include working towards awareness on campus through speakers, discussions, and film screenings, providing political outreach through petition signing and letter-writing campaigns, and forming relationships with local branches of Planned Parenthood to facilitate volunteer efforts in the greater community.
The political climate is always crazy during election years, and 2012 has definitely not been an exception to this rule. As voters form their opinions about the candidates and issues that matter to them, it will be interesting to see if this recent slew of reproductive legislation will have any effect on voters’ decisions, especially among female voters. Hopefully, both political parties will realize that women deserve equal health care and control over their own bodies; until then, women around the country should stand up for their rights and for what they believe is important. In the words of Dowd-Lukesh, “Talking about and working to protect a woman’s right to comprehensive and judgment-free health care is vital!”