I was a late bloomer in the birth control game. During my freshman year of college, I scheduled an appointment at my campus clinic and received my first Depo shot. Since I regularly forgot to take my vitamins, I didn’t trust myself to remember a pill at the same time every day. And while I’m sure that it’s a perfectly wonderful form of protection, wearing a patch around proclaiming my “controlled” status felt awkward. So I went with the shot. It felt like a very grown-up decision and I was proud to be making it. I was still a virgin, but I appreciated knowing that I would be safe and ready should the time come when I chose to have sex. This was a personal decision for me that I made as a mature young woman, and I extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to make that choice for myself.
The choice to get birth control seemed like a private matter. As much as I love and trust my parents, I didn’t discuss this decision with them. It was mine to make. And I’ve always felt like reproductive health is a personal choice. Which is why it’s so disturbing to see birth control, and a woman’s right to make her own choices about her reproductive health, under attack. In this extremely conservative political primary, the choice to take birth control, a choice that most women of my generation take for granted, is suddenly up for debate again.
A lot of the conversation around birth control circles the various “Personhood Amendments” that are being voted on in states across the country this year. It’s the same amendment that was recently voted down in Mississippi, but is still fighting for approval in states like Nevada, Arkansas and Colorado. Personhood claims that human life starts at conception, every fertilized egg is a human being that must protected under the law. While many pro-life activists support this cause because it would effectively end all abortion in the country, the wider implications of these bills seems to be lost. Either that, or birth control is not nearly as widely accepted as I thought.
Some types of birth control work, not by keeping a woman from releasing eggs, but stopping the implantation of those eggs in the uterine wall. It means that there’s a possibility of a fertilized egg being lost during a woman’s monthly period. Any birth control that works in this way would be illegal once a Personhood amendment passed. And let’s not even get started on it’s extreme effect on in vitro fertilization for couples who are actively trying to conceive.
My husband comes from an extremely traditional Catholic family. More than once, we’ve discussed birth control and the Church’s views on contraception. Unsurprisingly, they aren’t all in agreement with my decisions to use birth control at various times in my life. However, they would never attempt to make that decision for me. They all recognize that it’s a personal choice I need to make, weighing my faith and the Church’s teaching with my own beliefs and needs. What can I say, I have an amazingly supportive family. But they can’t deny that they fundamentally oppose the use of birth control. And by the way, neither can one of the primary Presidential candidates currently surging in the polls. That’s right, in an October interview, Rick Santorum publicly announced his disapproval of birth control.
As a young woman who has never known a time when birth control wasn’t readily available, I have to admit that this political battle over contraception is one I feel woefully unprepared for. I don’t think my generation realizes just how serious this fight is. A woman’s ability to protect herself against unwanted pregnancy is just as important as our ability to take care of the family we’ve already had.
In the past month, I’ve gone through a traumatic and difficult ectopic pregnancy. I’ve lost a Fallopian tube and undergone surgery, as well as extreme emotional agony over losing a child that my husband and I have been so badly hoping for. It was a horrible experience. At the end of it, my doctor warned me that I would need to be on birth control or using condoms for the next three months. After surgery, it's dangerous to get pregnant too quickly and I could find myself in another difficult and heart-wrenching position if I got didn't use protection for the time being. Or abstain from sex, but my husband vetoed that option. Why am I sharing this personal story? Because I'm a mother. I'm a woman who is desperately trying to have kids. I'm married and in a stable, loving relationship. And once again, just like my freshman year of college, I find myself thankful that I have the ability to take control of my own reproductive health and get birth control.
Birth control is not just about women who want to have promiscuous sex (not that's there's anything at all with promiscuous sex!), just like Personhood Amendments are not just about abortion (not that I would support anti-abortion legislation, either). As moms, shouldn't we be even more supportive of easy and safe family planning? We know just how important it is to help people make the correct decision for them. As women, shouldn't we stand up and pay attention when politicians start talking about our right to control our reproductive health? This battle seems far-fetched because it's almost incredible that anyone would denounce such a widely used and accepted medicine. But a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination has done so. States across the country have endangered birth control by allowing far-reaching and intensely vague amendments to go up for a vote. And people everywhere should be speaking up to protect our ability to choose when we're ready to have kids.