I stopped taking birth control in 2011. I find it not-ha-ha-funny that when I tell people this, the most common reaction I get is that it’s “dangerous” not taking birth control — and yet, so many people are willing to look the other way or not get angry when the highest court in our country denies women easy access to birth control. But wait! some people are saying. They can just buy birth control out of pocket! And my answer is yes, they could, except that it’s insanely expensive. And that’s reason #1 (not in order of priority) why I stopped taking birth control: I could no longer afford it.
At the time, I was working 32 hours a week at $13 an hour. That meant I was making about $1400 a month after taxes. My rent was $800 a month, and I paid about $200 a month in utilities and bills. That left $400 a month for gas and food for two people (my then-husband was unemployed). I was going to school full-time; I couldn’t work more than I already was working, and for working in grocery retail, I was already being paid well — almost at the pay cap for my job. But my employer’s insurance had insanely high deductibles (between visits and medications, the deductibles were about $2700, which constituted 16 percent of my pay after taxes). This was my employer’s patronizing way of encouraging employees to make wise decisions with their healthcare: Making it so that you had to pay out of pocket for everything up until you had an emergency. They gave us pre-loaded health spending debit cards; mine was loaded with $1200. That’s $1200 for everything — vision, dental, pharmaceuticals, and doctor visits.
My birth control alone cost $150 a month. I could max out my health spending card in eight months and never have the money to pay for anything else, or I could stop taking birth control.
What I haven’t seen much of in the discussion of birth control in the last month is the conversation about how different women need different forms of birth control. The ring was painful for me, the patch fell off, and high-dose hormonal birth control pills made me feel sick and exhausted and out of control. I finally landed on Lo-Lo-Estrin, a super-low-dose birth control pill. The generic was $90 a month, but then the generic was discontinued. I was already paying my rent late or half at a time, there was no way that I could afford shots, an implant or an IUD (which I didn’t want anyway; it comes with a high risk of infertility as far as birth conrol methods go). What real choice did I have — to make myself sick by over-dosing hormones with cheap birth control pills?
Which brings me to reason #2 why I stopped taking birth control: Looking at my options, I became disgusted as a woman that the onus had been put on me to manipulate my hormones (you know, those things that regulate basically your whole body) so that my husband could have unprotected sex. I had been taking birth control for eight of my 24 years by then, an entire third of my life. I was tired of being the half of the couple that carried an undue financial burden and tired of being the half of the couple that was required to physically interrupt my body for the sake of our alleged “freedom.” Hormonal birth control for men exists, and it’s not marketed because men would supposedly feel emasculated by it, and I didn’t care about men’s sense of emasculation anymore. I stopped taking the pills and started requiring condoms.
None of that is to say, of course, that I believe women shouldn’t take birth control. It does give women freedom and a means of protecting themselves financially. Having control over our reproductive lives makes us reproductively and economically more equal to men. But it is to say that not just access to birth control, but the design and marketing of birth control, has always been gendered. To claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t constitute sex discrimination would be laughable if the whole thing weren’t so sad.
I don’t know why people treat these news stories or social issues as if they exist in a vacuum. Access to birth control is connected to the widening wealth gap. “Religious freedom” in 2014 cannot be discussed without acknowledging the long history of gender discrimination in America. We get tunnel vision when we start assigning and denying freedoms because it’s easier to pretend that problem-solving à la carte A) is possible and B) doesn’t create more problems down the road. Given the Supreme Court’s recent history, I don’t know why I was shocked that they took such a narrow-minded approach to this case, why they didn’t foresee that siding with the speech of a philosophy that is quickly becoming outdated in America is going to make more work for the country further down the road. I used to respect the Supreme Court, but I’m starting to think, now, that it is as stupid and as much of a toady to the status quo as all the radicals I used to hang out with seem to think it is.