With Republicans now at the helm of both the legislative and executive branches, the last couple of months have been riddled with uncertainty over the future of women’s health care. From the return of the global gag rule to the attempted reinforcement of the Hyde Amendment, the new administration has flippantly dealt blow after blow against pro-choice policies on an international scale.
However, it wasn’t until Congress voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and threw legislative stones at Planned Parenthood’s federal funding that I finally realized the gravity of this political turbulence: If the GOP has its way with women’s health care, I could lose access to birth control altogether. It is for this reason — and, frankly, because there are very few painful, long-lasting procedures I would not withstand to keep the Paul Ryans of the world from playing my reproductive organs like a GameCube controller — that I finally decided, after wrestling with the idea for months, to get an IUD.
For those of you who are not super well-versed in the fascinating world of birth control methods, an intrauterine device is a tiny, T-shaped piece of plastic that you insert into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUDs: copper and hormonal. While I got the copper one, both work by thickening the mucus in your cervix to prevent sperm from reaching the egg, and they can last up to 12 years (or three presidential terms) with more than 99-percent effectiveness. When you’re ready to start a family, you simply ask your doctor to remove it and BAM: instant fertility.
I won’t sugarcoat it: The procedure itself is excruciating, but it only lasts a couple of minutes. You can get it done at a gynecologist or at your local Planned Parenthood (where I opted to get mine). Let me walk you through my experience so you can get a sense of what to expect if you ever decide to follow suit, keeping in mind potential barriers some women might encounter in their pursuit of bodily autonomy.
To begin, you should probably carve out a few hours in your day and schedule an appointment. For women with children or full-time jobs, this is enough of an impediment to make the entire process nearly impossible. In preparation for your visit, make sure you eat, drink lots of fluids and take some ibuprofen. If you’re fortunate enough to have reliable transportation, you should secure a ride to and from the clinic, because you will not feel like driving when you’re done.
When you arrive, endure the wait until they call your name. If you’re as lucky as I was, the lobby will be playing reruns of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and occasionally someone in the room will rap along to the theme song. Did I mention you should probably have insurance? Yeah, both the device and the procedure can cost up to $1,000, which is why many women forgo it as an option.
Once you’re inside, the doctor will evaluate you. Have you had unprotected sex in the last month? When was your last period? Do you usually have a heavy flow or a light one? Are you allergic to iodine?
Then, they’ll do a pregnancy test just to be safe, as being pregnant with an IUD is bad news bears. This entails the always glamorous act of pissing in a cup, so that’s where those fluids will come in handy.
Finally, once all of the formalities are out of the way, the doctor will perform the procedure. First, they’ll check your uterine alignment (I was informed that I have a tiny cervix, to which I bewilderedly replied, “Thank you”). Then, they’ll insert a large speculum into your vagina to keep everything, uh, out of the way. Lastly, they’ll put the IUD in place. A slight pinch. A wave of terrible cramps. A few seconds pass. Another wave of terrible cramps. All done.
You’ll walk out of that clinic feeling like someone kicked you in the uterus, and you’ll probably have to deal with cramps and spotting for about a week or so if all goes well and there are no infections. Women who cannot afford to take time off work to rest will have to find a way to distract themselves from feeling as though they’re giving birth to a set of knives — but, hey, that’s just the price of reproductive freedom.
Believe it or not, I’m not the only one who jumped at the chance to insert a foreign object into my uterus as a frantic and final attempt at bodily autonomy. Since the election, the demand for these suckers has increased by 900 percent as women everywhere are scrambling to protect the last shreds of their right to choose in the Trump administration.
Sure, months ago, I could have carefully weighed my birth-control options to figure out which was best-suited for my body and my lifestyle. If I couldn’t remember to take the pill every day, I could switch to NuvaRing. If I didn’t like the shot, I could try a cervical cap. Now, however, there is a greater sense of urgency. I feel like I can’t choose something I would need to replace or refill every few weeks because the possibility that my insurance may not cover the cost or that my health-care provider may not even exist in a few weeks will always linger in the back of my mind. If Republicans make good on their threats to roll back reproductive-health coverage or defund Planned Parenthood, I’m totally screwed.
And my concerns pale in comparison to the effect these legislative hits will have on low-income women, who make up 80 percent of Planned Parenthood’s clientele. Studies show that unintended pregnancies occur disproportionately in communities with high concentrations of poverty, and this can be traced directly to disparities in contraceptive access and use. What are these women supposed to do when lawmakers roll back access to birth control and government services at the same time? Where will they turn when they are unable to provide for families they were stripped of the right to plan themselves? What then?
The Trump administration has it completely backward if it believes that cutting reproductive-health care will accomplish anything other than endangering the lives of millions of women. After all, these services are difficult enough to obtain without Republican lawmakers introducing their skewed notions of justice into them. We should instead be working to increase birth-control accessibility and affordability so women like me don’t have to take drastic measures to ensure they’ll be protected.
IUDs should be a choice, not a last resort; and though I can rest easy knowing that I’ll probably be safe if lawmakers decide to turn back the clock 50 years on women’s health care, many other women can’t. In the land of the free, if we have to undergo a painful, inconvenient and expensive procedure to ensure we won’t be fucked over by stringent legislation, how free are we, really?
Lauren Schandevel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.