Last week, I was scrolling through Twitter in my downtime (like I do), trying to catch up on the latest news. Then I came across this tweet, which was actively interacted with by my feed, so I was compelled to stop and read the replies. As of Saturday, there are six thousand of them.
Photo: Thought Catalog on Unsplash
The tweet from podcast producer and philosopher Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) reads: “BIRTH CONTROL IS NOT HEALTHCARE,” with hand-clapping emojis inserted between each word.
People (mostly women) fired back at Molyneux, asking him to “Google Endometriosis” and explaining to him other medical issues for which birth control pills are prescribed, including migraines, menstrual cramps and acne.
Molyneux responded with another tweet: “If it's prescribed for a specific medical issue - then it's not only for birth control purposes. This is not hard.”
The angry replies intensified. “Pregnancy is a medical condition. Pregnant women go to doctors for pre-natal care. This is not hard,” one user tweeted back.
Upon observing the hundreds of interactions—the relentless back-and-forth—my curiosity was peaked. I decided to do some statistical research to support the claims that were made; not to discount personal experiences, but to amplify them.
As a reminder, birth control was first tested and created in the late 1950s for women as a treatment of “threatened or habitual abortion, dysfunctional uterine-bleeding, painful menstruation (endometriosis), and infertility,” according James Reed’s The Birth Control Movement and American Society: From Private Vice to Public Virtue. Before that, other more radical treatments were used, including hysterectomies.
In 1998, Viagra, the drug used to combat male impotence, became available to men nationwide, and it only took months for lawsuits to ensue in retaliation to insurance companies that refused to cover the prescription. According to a 1999 Cleveland State University study titled Gender Discrimination within the Reproductive Health Care System: Viagra v. Birth Control, the argument for coverage was that insurance companies should not be able to “regulate a man’s sexuality,” and that the drug constitutes as treatment for a man’s “vital human function.”
Due to the threat that is proposed by President Donald Trump’s intention to repeal or amend the Affordable Care Act and the women’s healthcare rights that accompany it, women continue to fight for protection of that same “vital human function,” and very few suits have been brought to its defense.
The CSU study describes Viagra not as a treatment or cure, but as a drug that prevents male impotence and the anxiety that accompanies it. The same structure can be applied to birth control: it prevents unwanted pregnancy and the anxiety that accompanies it. The study also compares both drugs to preventative prescriptions like those for high blood pressure and allergies.
According to a 2016 Guttmacher Institute report, family planning has proven to benefit the health of mothers, newborns, families and communities. The report also claims that when family planning is not utilized and pregnancies occur either too early, too late or too close together in a woman’s life, complications in maternal health and an increased risk of prematurity and low birth weight are more likely. Yet, women continue to struggle for reliable coverage of birth control.
14 percent of birth control pill users—1.5 million women in 2006–2008—used the pill for exclusively non-contraceptive purposes, according to a 2011 study called Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills. 58 percent of those pill users claimed to take it as a contraceptive as well as a treatment for menstrual pain, irregular cycles and heavy bleeding. The majority of women who need the pill to treat those conditions are teenage girls. But confidence in its accessibility still lacks due to a large-scale concern about the possibility of their deliberate promiscuity.
The use of hormonal contraceptives has also been proven to have long-term health benefits after a woman’s reproductive years. A 2015 issue of The Lancet Oncology reported that 400,000 cases of endometrial cancer before age 75 were prevented by the pill over the 50 years between 1965 and 2014, including 200,000 in the decade between 2005 and 2014.
Although the majority of women who are on birth control use it to prevent pregnancy, there are numerous additional reasons, besides a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, for its prescription and necessary health care coverage. The next time someone proposes that birth control access doesn’t constitute as health care, what will be your response?
Kayla Blanton is a 21-year-old recent graduate of Ohio University’s E.W Scripps School of Journalism. She hopes to use her career to inform and empower women, and she also hopes to one day own a Scottish Fold cat.