I was feeling really sick recently, but I didn’t tell anyone because it wasn’t a human health problem. It was a women’s health problem.
Many of my Christian school teachers wouldn’t have touched sex education with a ten-foot speculum. It was the perfect prelude to entering an entire society which thinks separating reproductive concerns from health care is as easy as removing Mrs. Potato Head’s plastic nose.
Pregnancy: just don’t think about it
When I was nineteen, my middle-aged male urologist answered my questions about my recently diagnosed interstitial cystitis —until I wanted to know whether the condition would complicate pregnancy or childbirth.
He chuckled and said there was really no point in asking about that right now, is there?
Maybe he brushed me off because I was young and unmarried and, in his opinion, not ready for children. Maybe he didn’t care that urinary problems and chronic pelvic pain could impact a future pregnancy — or even the choice to start a family.
Now, I know these are ludicrous reasons to ignore a patient’s concerns. But at the time, I didn’t question my doctors. Cheeks burning, I hastily ended the appointment.
The wormhole to my uterus
I remembered that doctor because the question of corporations’ right to exclude their employees’ birth control from health insurance coverage is in the news again, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptives mandate on religious grounds.
A lot of responses to this controversy have popped up, including reports that Hobby Lobby, a Christian family-owned craft store involved in the suit, objects to some types of birth control but invests in companies that make abortion drugs and IUDs, the latter being one of the very contraceptive devices Hobby Lobby healthcare plans deny its employees. Another writer veers into a rant about China and its human rights abuses, the point being Hobby Lobby’s hypocrisy, buying many of its products from a country where forced abortions are rampant, while the company opposes abortion and even some kinds of birth control in the US.
Judging from the level of anger about what we’ve dubbed the “Hobby Lobby decision,” I’m guessing that a lot of people don’t realize Hobby Lobby isn’t refusing to cover all contraceptives: just the ones it believes, based on faulty knowledge of medical science, to cause the demise of embryos, rather than preventing fertilization itself. Hobby Lobby insurance policies will cover your vasectomy — and your tubal ligation.
That doesn’t make this decision any better, though.
I suspect politicians, CEOs, and bishops who want to thwart people’s access to some kinds of birth control are operating with the same mindset as my former urologist.
To them, reproductive care isn’t like pulmonary, cardiac, neurological, digestive, dermatological, or orthopedic care. It’s as if female reproductive organs exist in some kind of separate dark universe subject to others’ practical and ideological whims.
Git ‘er dead
Catholic hospitals which will let a woman die from a miscarriage gone septic rather than treat her by removing the doomed fetus are one of the most extreme examples of the toxic refusal to integrate female reproductive health with overall human health.
Corporations now trumpeting “religious freedom” to oppose Affordable Care Act provisions requiring comprehensive contraceptive coverage for employee health plans are mired in the same fallacy. Even if you ignore the fact that the decision of whether or not to become pregnant has enormous full-body health implications, these objectors are conveniently forgetting that some contraceptives, particularly the IUDs in question, treat debilitating conditions like endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder. In other words, “birth control” isn’t always about family planning. Welcome to modern medicine!
But because we’re talking about girl-organs, a fellow human being’s health is your “biblical” corporate objection. And just because the practical outcome at hand is the access to some forms of birth control over others (touted as a minor issue by some commentators in the why-can’t-we-just-all-get-along vein) doesn’t make this decision any less poisonous.
As many other writers have pointed out, I would like to see the courts defend a Jehovah’s Witness who denied his employees coverage for blood transfusions, or a Scientologist CEO who objects to coverage for antidepressants.
Let infants take their chances
When I tried to shop for health insurance before Obamacare, many affordable policies explicitly excluded coverage for pregnancy or maternity-related costs. As a married thirty-year-old woman in a country where a healthy birth routinely costs tens of thousands of dollars, I knew this was a preposterous excuse for insurance. These insurers probably don’t realize it’s an illusion when magicians saw women in half on stage. In real life, you can’t manage your overall health while ignoring your reproductive health.
Take the folks who are angry because the new law requires many insurance policies to cover contraceptives and maternity care. They think a system providing adequate health care for women and their babies places an unfair burden on people with penises, who should be able to buy policies from a pool that excludes women’s care. Is it worth mentioning that woman don’t become pregnant on their own? Or that adequate pre- and post-natal care prevents a host of tragic, expensive medical problems that weigh on the entire system?
Please, show me someone who doesn’t owe his life to Mom’s oh-so-problematic parts. And then continue insisting that “women’s care” is an unfair use of your resources.
Viagra ≠ the Pill
Even people on the liberal side fall into the Magical Segmented Lady trap when they point out the moral and intellectual outrage of denying women some forms of reproductive care by calling for the same insurance policies to drop coverage for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. If you don’t want your female employees to access all birth control options, the argument goes, by gum, you should prevent access to medicine for erectile dysfunction, too.
But men paying out of pocket for better, longer-lasting erections aren’t in the same boat as women who face the risks of pregnancy and motherhood without a budget or support system for proper care. This is a false equivalence that only serves to further compartmentalize human health care, instead of accepting the reality of the whole body, male or female.
Cover your eyes, this is gross
So, back to my recent sickness. My hellacious periods, suffered in silence, remind me twelve times a year that my reproductive organs don’t have the same status as the rest of my body. It feels subversive, tacky, and risky to mention that my periods make me think that God, if God exists, really doesn’t like women.
(Turns out some of the troubles are complications of interstitial cystitis. Coulda mentioned that, oh crappy urologist of my youth.)
After several days of widespread pain and what could at best be called a virulent passive death wish, the real fun starts, usually at dawn on the 28th day. Even with multiple medications and attention to physical and dietary triggers, I am often immobilized for several hours by the pain. Hours of crushing nausea are an occasional bonus, but the eight-hour migraine, more defiant and immovable than Bashar al-Assad, is unavoidable.
This is the first time I’ve ever publicly mentioned this, because one of the only ways we’re allowed to talk about menstruation is memes of female psychopaths demanding chocolate. I don’t know who these people are. I don’t eat chocolate before or during my period because caffeine increases the agony.
(All this is also worth saying here because some of the birth control options corporate insurance policies can now withhold from their employees on religious grounds include devices or medications that can treat symptoms like mine.)
So be ashamed, embarrassed, and misinformed. Mock your period as some kind of alien invasion and don’t reveal that you’re hurting. On the same principle, let your teachers and your doctors ignore your questions about sex and pregnancy. Let your culture and health care system rope those ovaries off from the rest of you. Let clerics, corporate owners, and judges you’ll never meet determine your healthcare options.
Because this is a modern free society.
And reproductive organs don’t deserve the same roster of options as all the other parts of your body.
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