Since the invention of the hormonal birth control pill, contraception has been a woman’s responsibility in cisgender-heterosexual (cishet) relationships. Before the Pill, men, typically the head of the family, decided when their partners had children. This was especially true because the main contraceptive methods were the male condom and withdrawal, both of which were done by men. By the 1960s, when the birth control pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), women were calling for reproductive freedom, which made the Pill an instant hit. Unfortunately, its popularity also placed the burden of contraception on women (Campo-Engelstein).
Women are still mainly responsible for birth control today. Out of the 18 methods of birth control recognized by Planned Parenthood, only four apply to men: the male condom, vasectomy, abstinence, and pulling out. None of these are hormonal methods, which typically have more serious side effects. In contrast, of the 15 options for women, the six most effective forms are hormonal (“Birth Control”).
Birth control can have serious mental and physical side effects, such as mood swings, nausea, abdominal cramping, and menstrual irregularities. It takes up women’s time, energy, and money. Contraception can also require invasive exams and procedures (Campo-Engelstein).
Because of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), most women receive free prescription contraception through healthcare plans (Adamczyk). California’s recently passed Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act of 2021 also extends coverage to all FDA-approved over-the-counter drugs. The bill is gender-neutral and includes state workers and people enrolled in university plans. It prohibits discrimination against employees based on contraceptive decisions (“Contraceptive Equity Act of 2021”). Unfortunately, under the Affordable Care Act and in California, any employer can refuse to cover birth control due to religious or moral objections (Adamczyk).
A common suggestion to decrease the burden of contraception on women is developing male birth control. Effective male contraceptives have been developed by groups like the World Health Organization, but none received enough funding to make it to pharmacy shelves, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Because traditional gender norms portray women as primary caregivers and equate men’s worth with their sex drive and fertility, pharmaceutical companies and investors do not believe male contraception will sell (Extance).
3 PART RESPONSE
I. Develop More Options
In order to decrease the side effects, time, energy, and invasive procedures that come with contraception, new methods must be developed. Eleanore, obstetrician-gynecologist at University of California, Berkeley, does not believe new women’s contraceptive technology will be discovered. She suggests providing existing methods with different doses of hormones instead. This will allow people to find a product that balances side effects and efficacy in a way that works best for them. Eleanore has many patients who discontinue the birth control pill because they have trouble remembering to take it, so she wants companies to develop more permanent options, like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants. She also believes creating smaller and less intimidating IUDs will be more appealing and cause less discomfort (Eleanore).
II. Decrease Expenses
To allow more people access to contraception, California law must be changed to prohibit employers, especially for-profit companies, from refusing to cover birth control in healthcare plans. Lobbying State Senator Connie M. Levya, Essential Access Health, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and the National Health Law Program could help. The recent Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act of 2021 was co-sponsored by these organizations and authored by Senator Levya (“NARAL Pro-Choice California”). In addition, donating to Planned Parenthood would allow the organization to continue providing low-cost contraceptives and reproductive healthcare to low-income and uninsured people (“Birth Control”). Eleanore also says she tells her patients to ask their partners to pay for half the cost of their birth control if it is not covered by insurance (Eleanore).
III. Generate Male Support
In the United States, tubal ligation, the surgical sterilization of women, is far more common than vasectomies, despite vasectomies being quicker, easier, safer, and cheaper. Educating people on this information could remove some of the responsibility of birth control from cisgender women (Campo-Engelstein). According to Eleanore, male birth control will not be developed or used until gender roles are significantly changed. With current stereotypes, men will not be trusted to take birth control, especially because the risks of an unintended pregnancy are much worse for women (Eleanore).
If you feel comfortable, please leave a comment answering the following questions:
- Do you or someone you know take birth control? What is your/their preferred method?
- Should religious employers be able to refuse to cover birth control in healthcare plans? Why or why not?
- Which is more important: developing birth control for men or improving women’s contraception? Why?
- What side effects do you think people able to get pregnant should be willing to bear for birth control? What should be considered unacceptable?