Our new intern, Vanessa Martini, a senior at Bard College, has a confession to make. Well, it’s more of a rant really than a confession, but we’re with her!:
Though the furor around this electoral season’s contraception debate has quieted somewhat in mainstream media, the topic continues to rumble around feminist spaces both online and off, and in op-eds around the country. While any support for a woman’s right to use contraception (or not to) is good support, there is an emerging pattern of anecdotal excuses for why contraception can be necessary. And it’s beginning to irk me.
Married commentators trot out the example of their partners choosing to use contraception in order to keep from having more children. Countless women point out—with immense validity—the variety of associated medical benefits that come from hormonal birth control, usually adding that the prevention of pregnancy is merely a useful side effect. Sandra Fluke, ostensibly the figurehead for much of the outcry against restricting women’s access to birth control, was herself testifying about another woman’s struggle — a gay woman — with polycystic ovary syndrome and how access to birth control would have spared her a much more expensive operation to remove an ovary.
Of course, these are all well and good examples of what birth control can do and how it can be used. But there’s something troubling about the fact that these arguments need to be made at all. Why do feminists feel the need to couch their support for contraception in more “palatable” terms? Why insist that many faithfully married or partnered women use it? Why bring out the example of a lesbian or queer-identified woman who uses it for medical reasons?
These are concessions to those who oppose birth control as it is denotatively perceived: as something “bad girls” use when they want to have sex without needing to “take responsibility for their choices.” These are attempts to make the basic idea that no one should be denied any kind of medical treatment for any reason go down a little smoother for those who think otherwise where the female body is concerned.
The argument happening now should not be so much about whether insurers should cover contraceptives or not. It should not be about whether “conscience clauses” can allow a pharmacist to refuse dispensing birth control or a morning-after pill. It should not be about whether the state can mandate an invasive ultrasound to women seeking abortion, and it should also not be about whether abortion is legal or not. Instead the argument on the progressive side must become about not allowing the government to determine whether a person can or cannot obtain the medical help, procedures, or implements they seek and occasionally desperately need.
Sexism rears its head when laws propose restricting such access for women only. Classism appears, too, when proposals to entirely eliminate funding for clinics that provide free or low-cost healthcare for women (clinics that vastly outnumber abortion providers) gain traction, as they are now that two front-running candidates for presidential nomination vow to dismantle Title X. The mind-boggling doublethink happening now on the right wants the government to somehow simultaneously decrease in size and increase its invasiveness in the very bodies of American women. Anyone hoping to keep the right to do with their bodies what they will must now turn their focus away from the sadly reliably divisive topic of birth control and toward the fight for bodily freedom and personal liberty.