Let Them Eat Viagra!

When I was 19, I was prescribed birth control pills in an attempt to:

a) help clear up my severe acne (it fucking didn’t), and

b) alleviate the debilitating cramps and other general misery I suffered as part of my awful, awful periods (it totally did!).

And if it also: c) kept me from getting unexpectedly pregnant, well that was awesome too – just don’t tell my mom!

I worked in a doctor’s office at the time, and my doctor, who was a lovely and very cool person, gave me some free, one-month sample packs of Ortho Tri-Cyclin. God only knows how much these would have cost out of pocket (this was 1998, and the Socialist Nazi Death Panels Affordable Care Act was merely a glimmer in Obama’s eye), and luckily I never had to find out, as she continued to top me up with free samples. When I left for University she sent me off with a six-month supply. I got more when I came home for Christmas.

When she moved to another practice and was no longer my doctor, the freebies obviously ended. But by then I had finished school and was officially too old to be on my parents’ health insurance, so I became one of the millions of Americans who didn’t have any. I couldn’t afford to pay for luxuries like prescribed birth control pills (or, you know, just going to the doctor in the first place), so I stopped taking them. Soon I was back to spending roughly three days per month doubled over in pain from severe cramps and downing ibuprofin in an effort to just get through the day – never mind the whole ‘birth control’ part of the pill.*

A couple of years later, my minimum wage drugstore job began offering basic medical insurance, so I eagerly signed up. I saw a doctor for the first time in about three years (fortunately I had been lucky enough not to have gotten seriously ill or injured during my time without coverage) and, armed with a new prescription for my dearly-missed Ortho Tri-Cyclin, went to my nearest pharmacy to fill it. Alas, my shiny new insurance did not, in fact, cover contraception, and when the woman behind the pharmacy counter told me how much I’d have to pay, I sheepishly asked for my prescription back and practically ran out of the store before I started crying. I don’t know why I felt so embarrassed and ashamed – it wasn’t my fault; I’d done what I was supposed to do as a responsible adult and sacrificed part of my measly wages for health insurance. But because the medicine I required was not considered mandatory, was in fact seen as some kind of frill or extraneous indulgence, like a fancy coffee from Starbucks, it wasn’t my insurer’s responsibility.

To make a long story short, for the next few years I ended up getting my pills from Planned Parenthood, who offered a scheme for low-income women allowing them to get three months’ worth at a time for a donation of $5 or $10 (or for free if they were really strapped – I usually paid $10). I currently live in the UK, where I get all my basic healthcare – including contraception – for free on the NHS. I get my prescription, take it to the pharmacy, tick a little exemption box that says ‘contraception’ and, because choosing when to become pregnant is considered necessary healthcare for women in this country and not some frivilous treat for slutty sluts who have all the sex, I pay nothing (prescriptions in England usually cost £7). No questions asked. No need to justify or defend myself. I feel immensely lucky and privileged to live in a country that provides universal healthcare, even though, at least in the industrialised world, that privilege is considered a basic human right, and is in fact the norm.

I watch what’s happening in America right now – this fanatical resistance to Obamacare; the Supreme Court’s sanctioning of companies putting up religious road blocks, further hampering women’s access to medicines they need; the gross, misogynist comments from men telling women to ‘keep their legs closed’ and stop expecting to have their slut pills ‘paid for’ by their employers (never mind that the vast majority of married women also use contraception) – and I genuinely don’t understand what the fuck is going on, why this has to be so bloody difficult.

The people who own Hobby Lobby ‘sincerely believe’ the contraceptives they object to cause abortions, even though there is no scientific evidence to support this belief. The Supreme Court acknowledges this, yet the belief itself – not the facts – is enough to warrant the objection. The precedent has been set. They’ve opened the floodgates.

I sincerely believe that women are people – this is an indesputable fact. That they have a right to choose when to have children. That they have a right to enjoy their sexuality – be it with a monogamous partner in a marriage or long-term relationship or three guys they met in a pub last week – without shame or punishment, and without the fear of becoming pregnant when they don’t want to. That they have a right to access medical care that enables them to do this, without some asshole calling them a whore.

What about my beliefs? Where is our protection?

* I feel I should stress that I am not saying using birth control is only necessary or justified if you use it for purposes other than avoiding pregnancy, such as helping with painful periods. Contraception is a legitimate and necessary part of healthcare for women, full stop. Even if she is a total harlot like Sandra Fluke.

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6 thoughts on “Let Them Eat Viagra!

  1. Christopher Slater

    I’ll tell you the argument that you’ll hear from others: Hobby Lobby pays twice the minimum wage and their insurance covers 16 of 20 forms of contraception! I’m thrilled that Hobby Lobby pays their employees decently. More companies should. Their insurance covers the vast majority of contraceptives. Great, but the mandate of the law said they should cover all 20. It doesn’t matter if they cover 19 out of 20. They declared that their for-profit company could exclude itself from a law for a religious reason. Now companies have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. How much longer before voting rights are extended? How far does religious freedom for businesses go? Do they get to start requiring employees to attend chapel? Fire them if they drink outside of work? Amazing that there is never a challenge to Viagra being covered by insurance, huh?

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  2. Amethyst Post author

    That’s one of the worst things about this decision – it’s already headed down the slippery slope, and we’ve got other companies and organisations saying they don’t even want to sign the ‘opt out’ form and allow women to get their meds from the government or directly thorough their insurance company. That too treads upon their religious freedom. Where does it end? How far will it go? I often compare what Hobby Lobby is doing to me telling my employees (if I were a business owner) that I’ll pay them, but because I’m a vegetarian, they can’t use their wages to buy any meat. I could even argue that I sincerely believe that animals have souls and that killing them is murder. Most people would say that’s ridiculous and I have no right to impose my beliefs on my employees like that. Why is it different for religion?

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    1. Christopher Slater

      I started wondering if a company could use the parable of the vineyard workers to deny minimum wage and overtime?

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  3. Peter Carter

    Great post, thanks. I love the way you evoke the situation and I can feel what you went through and how shitty it felt. It’s almost a truism that we write our best stuff when attempting to communicate something difficult. Whether it’s understood straight away or much later, it always communicates (to reinterpret T.S.Eliot). I loved reading this and sharing your thoughts. Thank you for allowing me the time to do so. It means a lot.

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  4. Pingback: Charity of the Month: Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho | An Ordinary Woman of Ordinary Temperament

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