On a sunny morning during my freshman year of college, I woke up to my insides being pummeled. This was nothing new — for eight years I had struggled with monthly ordeals of incapacitating corporal mutiny. But it was the first week of school, so I began walking to class. I ended up collapsing on a bathroom floor, vomiting, drenched in sweat and immobilized with agony. After what seemed like years, an ambulance came and paramedics took me to the hospital.
We never found out what happened that day. But they put me on birth control to prevent another hospital visit. Three years and a few other female conditions later, the birth control pill is still the only medication protecting me against needlessly suffering again.
A lot of guy friends ask why I take the pill if I’m not having sex. I was offended until I realized that they believed the common misconception that oral contraceptives are only for people having sex. Many use this fallacy — citing society’s declining sexual morality and religious freedom — to express opposition to the bill requiring all private insurance plans to cover oral contraceptives. But for me, the pill is a medicine.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 11.2 million women in the United States take the pill. Another 6.5 million use oral contraceptives in part for non-contraceptive benefits. 1.56 million women take the pill strictly for non-contraceptive purposes — 762,000 of which have never had sex.
Oral contraceptives are powerful. Medical research indicates that they significantly decrease the risk of ovarian, colorectal and uterine cancer. The pill can also treat dysfunctional uterine bleeding, acne, endometriosis, menstrual cramps, hypermenorrhea, PMS, PMDD, ovarian cysts, chocolate cysts, fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome and irregular menstrual cycles.
I find it disconcerting when people like Rush Limbaugh and Foster Friess call women taking oral contraceptives “sluts” or advise them to put “aspirin between their knees,” especially since more than 6 million women take the pill for medical reasons. These conditions are not sexually transmitted, and I doubt abstinence prevents or cures any of them. Limbaugh and Friess’s words demonstrate the importance of taking women’s health seriously and using education to abolish misconceptions about the pill.
While I respect someone’s opposition to the pill’s contraceptive benefits, I have to wonder what gives anybody permission to deny someone healthcare. If nobody would deny a diabetic insulin for religious reasons, why would they deny a woman medicine for endometriosis? For that matter, if a woman needed an operation for something otherwise preventable by the pill, would objectors pay for her surgery, medication and hospital bills? If the woman was unable to treat her condition because the objector denied her access to the necessary treatment, wouldn’t the objector be culpable for her needing surgery? While I hope objectors would foot the bill for potential cases like this, I doubt they’d be willing to pay for the thousands of women who would suffer the consequences of the objector’s “conscience.”
I invite opponents of the birth control bill to consider who their decision could affect — because illness strikes regardless of faith, chastity or politics. What if their wives, girlfriends, daughters or sisters had conditions that needed to be treated with oral contraceptives? Would they deny their loved ones the pill? Could they watch their loved ones needlessly suffer because of them? If they could do that in good conscience, I suppose they have that right. But before anybody makes that choice, I hope they remember the Bible verse Zechariah 7:9, “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’”
Kelsey Trotta is an LSA junior.