Archive for July, 2011

Replying to more arguments regarding no-cost birth control

July 26, 2011

Since writing about birth control access last week, I’ve come across a few more arguments in the comments section of this blog/my OpenSalon version of this blog that I’d like to address:

  • Condoms aren’t that expensive, why not just use those?
  • $50 isn’t that much money, you can easily forgo excesses and scrape together the money for a co-pay.
  • If you can’t afford birth control and don’t want to get pregnant, then don’t have sex.

Firstly, condoms are cheaper than a lot of types of birth control. But two methods are always better than one, especially if you’re concerned that a condom will break and you — as the woman — could get pregnant. For me, it’s important to know that I have control over my reproductive health, and condoms alone don’t fulfill that sense of security. It’s also important to know that should a condom fail, you’re taking another form of birth control as an added preventive measure against an unplanned pregnancy.

Secondly, $50 isn’t that much money to some people, but just because you could easily scrape together $50 by going out to the bars less or eating out less doesn’t mean other people could. Some women and families already aren’t doing those things and struggle financially, and to them $50 is a lot of money each month. Also, as one commenter pointed out on a previous birth control blog, some clinics that offer low-cost birth control do so in a lump sum. So the price is reasonable per month, but you pay for everything up front — is $150 as easy to gather just by nixing pizza for a month?

Another problem with this mentality is that scraping together money for birth control each month is not a stable way to ensure birth control access. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then you’ll only successfully scrape together enough money for birth control as long as no other unexpected expenses come your way. Say you save $50 for your co-pay, and then your car breaks down. The bill is $300 — how are you going to pay for birth control now? This leaves women using it inconsistently — a major problem that leads to unplanned pregnancies.

Thirdly, the “just don’t have sex” argument is logical but not practical. True, if people don’t want to get pregnant then they could just not have sex. This is the theme of abstinence-only education, which studies show is less effective at preventing pregnancies than comprehensive sex education because just saying “don’t do it” isn’t efficient. What is efficient is giving people the tools and knowledge they need to practice safe sex.

Some people will probably never agree here, because one side sees this as preventive and the other side sees it as enabling. I see it as realistic. Yes, yes, I hear the people in the “actions have consequences and if you can’t handle having a baby then don’t have sex” corner, but that argument just turns a blind eye to how people actually act. People will have sex, and sure, you can punish them by ensuring birth control is inaccessible so either they have to abide by your moral compass or risk an unplanned pregnancy. Or, you can admit that it’s better for everyone involved that we accept people will have sex outside of procreation purposes and that ensuring unplanned pregnancies don’t lead to abortions or unhealthy babies is more important than winning a standoff because you refuse to compromise.

Sounds like a common theme lately in politics …

Replying to my mom’s concerns about no-cost birth control

July 21, 2011

This blog was submitted to the National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood’s Birth Control Blog Carnival (BCBC) — view all the BCBC posts here.

While discussing birth control access and the upcoming decision on whether birth control copays will be eliminated, my mom made the following three points:

  • Birth control is cheaper than the cost of a baby.
  • Can’t women get birth control at free clinics?
  • But taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill for other people’s birth control.

My mom is always useful for providing a mainstream, moderate voice to counter my oftentimes liberal voice (you may remember reading about her disgust at my using a menstrual cup). So if word on the street is that women just need to do a better cost-benefit analysis, find a free clinic, and stop thinking they can mooch off taxpayers to get free birth control, then it’s time to set the record straight.

Firstly, yes, birth control is undoubtedly cheaper than the cost of a child. But if cost is what’s stopping women from taking birth control, then likely women are simply risking unplanned pregnancy to spend that birth control money on other bills and expenses. It’s like if you can’t afford insurance — yes, you are well aware that the cost of renters insurance is cheaper than the cost of, say, replacing everything you own if your apartment burns to the ground, but the chances seem so slim and your money is needed for immediate expenses. When faced with immediate repercussions versus future consequences, we often focus on the immediate.

So that argument does well from a, “Well, you should have done your research,” chastising standpoint, but it doesn’t really seem to grasp that people know there are risks but simply have to choose how to allocate their limited finances. That’s why no-cost birth control — which eliminates out-of-pocket costs for women — would be such a breakthrough for birth control accessibility and unplanned pregnancy prevention.

Secondly, women can get birth control at free clinics — assuming that they are close to where they live and aren’t currently closing because of state laws aimed to shut down family-planning clinics that provide abortion services. For instance, Planned Parenthood has a free birth control program, but these programs are in danger thanks to state and federal attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. And some states only have a few of these clinics, so traveling there for free birth control would take a sizable amount of time and money.

You can go here and find a list of family-planning clinics that offer reduced but not necessarily free birth control, though these are Title X funded and could be in danger depending on legislative attempts to deny Title X funds to family-planning clinics. It’s easy enough to say, “Just go to Planned Parenthood,” but low-income women are going to run out of places to turn for affordable contraception if politicians keep trying to defund and close down these clinics. Yet another reason no-cost birth control is so important.

Thirdly, you’re already subsidizing other people’s lifestyle choices. On the list of preventive services already covered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, there are items regarding obesity, tobacco, alcohol, STIs — you could craft an argument for most of the list that your tax dollars are enabling someone else’s poor decision somewhere along the line. This also sounds like the argument some elderly people make for not wanting to pay for school levies — they have no connection to the school system so why should they pay for it? Well, because education has a greater community purpose.

And birth control serves a community purpose, too. By planning pregnancies, women (and men) can better focus on getting an education, following career goals, and ensuring that if they do want to plan a pregnancy, they are in a solid place financially and emotionally to make that decision. Healthier babies, fewer abortions, less need for government assistance, people being able to get an education and jobs — these all benefit society as a whole.

Want to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to put birth control on the list of preventive services? Sign the petition here.

It’s time to repave the bumpy road to birth control access

July 20, 2011

This blog was submitted to the National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood’s Birth Control Blog Carnival (BCBC) — view all the BCBC posts here.

If the obstacles to birth control accessibility were like potholes in the road, things like social stigma and conscience clauses would be cracks compared to the sinkhole that financial barriers are to women seeking contraception. A great help to smooth this road to accessibility would be its inclusion in preventive services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), a move that would mean women no longer need to pay copays for birth control.

I actually used to think copays weren’t so bad — I was on my dad’s insurance plan in college, and I was prescribed a birth control that had a generic, $5 form. Five bucks every month? Even as a college student that was affordable. Then I graduated, got dropped from my dad’s insurance plan, and to boot my OB/GYN was concerned about the brand I was taking. My periods could be lighter, shorter, why don’t I try something new?

Sure, I thought — what could be bad about that? And then in addition to my prescription, I got a coupon to use at the pharmacy. You know your birth control is expensive when your OB/GYN hands you a card that will cap your birth control copay. It cost me $24 for this brand, which didn’t have a generic form. This pill had too many ill side effects, so I got switched to another no-generic brand that cost $35 per month. Somehow, the cost of my birth control managed to increase 700 percent in less than a year.

I was lucky in that, despite a three-month bout of unemployment, I never had to go without birth control to pay other bills or expenses. But that isn’t the case for everyone — in fact, the cost of this preventive health measure actually prevents a lot of women from either starting to take or regularly taking birth control because of high copays.

Some people want to argue about the merits of calling birth control “preventive,” that it implies pregnancy is a disease — those arguments are nothing but games of semantics that, by the way, ignore that some items already included as preventive services under PPACA are not directly preventing diseases, either. Birth control is the epitome of preventive — it prevents unplanned pregnancies, prevents the risks then associated with unplanned pregnancies because women don’t know they’re pregnant, and inevitably prevents abortions.

I’ve had experience with the other accessibility roadblocks, too — a friend of mine couldn’t get a prescription from any doctor in her doctor’s office because one of the doctors had religious objections to birth control (and for some reason it was OK for the entire office then to deny writing the prescriptions because of this?); I have felt awkward asking for birth control because I was young and felt my OB/GYN would stun me with judgmental eyes. But to avoid or breakthrough these roadblocks just to be met with a copay that could exceed $50 every month? A copay that could equal or surpass, say, your electric bill? A copay that for other preventive health services doesn’t exist? It’s like staring at the road wondering, “Why are they filling all these other potholes and just ignoring this huge one in the middle of the road?”

And it’s essential for women’s health that this pothole be filled because a different one is rapidly growing, courtesy of politicians who have set their sights on attacking women’s health. Their attempts to defund organizations like Planned Parenthood — which overwhelmingly works to provide low-income women with affordable contraception and health services like breast cancer screenings, pap tests, and STI testing — serve as the latest obstacle to affordable birth control and healthcare. In this atmosphere, a detour in the form of eliminated copays is welcome and necessary — Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan put it best when she said that this possibility seems like “a glimmer of hope that maybe the government doesn’t actually hate us after all.”

The Institute of Medicine has recommended to Department of Health and Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that birth control be included as a preventive health service, and I really, really, sincerely hope that it is. Cost is a huge roadblock for people who want to take but can’t always afford preventive measures, so lifting this barrier would be a monumental for women’s healthcare and contraceptive access.

Want to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to accept the IOM’s recommendations? Sign the petition here.

Rihanna is more than a dating violence victim

July 14, 2011

On Twitter, Love Is Respect linked to this Huffington Post piece about Rihanna being a poster woman for domestic violence — the question alongside the link was, “This editorial puts a lot of pressure on Rihanna—how do you feel about it?” Well, here goes nothin’.

I think that expecting someone who goes through trauma to become a spokesperson for that cause is too much pressure. Does Rihanna being a celebrity mean that, if she chose to do public service announcements about dating violence, a wider audience would pay attention and become aware? Of course. Does her celebrity mean that her path to dealing with trauma should be public and/or dictated by the public? Absolutely not.

The article is a response to her latest video for “Man Down.” In the video, a man sexually assaults her and she later kills him. Someone suggested that Rihanna should do a PSA for the end of the video because the video itself sends the wrong message about dealing with assault. Though I think raising awareness about dating violence in the media is important, why are we relying just on Rihanna? And why are we viewing every artistic move she makes in the context of “Rihanna the victim” instead of “Rihanna the musician”?

Her experience with dating violence might filter through to songs. Maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, our initial, default reaction shouldn’t be, “Oh, how do these lyrics relate to when Chris Brown assaulted her?” In the article, author Lois Alter Mark asks, “[W]hy are we still blaming the victim?” in regard to judging Rihanna’s violent music video. I think a better question is, “Why are we only looking at Rihanna as a victim?”

Ideal wedding gift: People keeping their two cents?

July 14, 2011

Facebook engagements, wedding invitations, bridesmaid duties — I’ve reached the age where marriage is common and constant. GOOD associate editor Nona Willis Aronowitz’s article “I Wish I Wasn’t Married,” however, looks at marriage from a different perspective — one where she discusses getting married to get her boyfriend insurance and all of the social antics that followed.

One of the things that really struck me was the judgment that Willis Aronowitz received from family, friends, and co-workers when she publicized her marriage on Facebook:

Suddenly, I had become a blank slate for others’ fantasies and judgments, an unwitting recipient of advice, wedding proposal stories and even a source of visible jealousy. Now that my relationship was public and state-sactioned, people felt they could freely weigh in on it.  My world was divided by two reactions: “Amazing, you’re married!” and, “Are you serious?” My New York friends and family were just perplexed, remembering my years-long, non-tragic bouts of singlehood. Other friends were surprised I made the move after my outrage only weeks before at California’s upholding of Prop 8.

Those comments were countered by delighted, almost relieved reactions. My coworkers from the suburbs had been hard-pressed to find anything to talk to me about, but now they were fawning all over me. Buried in their generic “congratulations!” were little epiphanies—they’d finally found a way to relate to me.

Relationships generally bring a lot of unsought advice from third parties (as does being single), but marriage seems to attract even more commentary. Sure some of the response to the author’s marriage can be attributed to a shotgun wedding, but friends showing disappointment that you sold out? Co-workers admitting that you weren’t socially approachable as “girlfriend” but now are as “wife”? People getting jealous? These aren’t specific to shotgun weddings, these permeate all types of nuptial talk.

The selling-out accusation really caught my eye, as marriage is a divisive topic among feminists. As a feminist, your viewpoints will likely either cause criticism from non-feminist-minded family and friends who don’t understand why you don’t want to get married, why you don’t want to take your husband’s last name, why your wedding isn’t going to have [insert traditional but patriarchal element here], etc. — or you’ll hear criticism from feminist-minded family and friends who want to criticize you for getting married, taking your husband’s last name, incorporating [traditional but patriarchal element here] in your wedding, etc.

Part of the problem here is people’s natural tendency to be gossipy and critical. Another part though, as Willis Aronowitz suggests at the end of her article, is the narrow definition that exists for marriage. I believe that you can change the institution from within, change the social expectations and implications of marriage by example, and the same with choosing not to get married. So though I understand the motivation for calling people out, it also just reinforces the traditional, rigid view of marriage and prevents it from evolving (in a social context — laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman obviously are the major legal roadblock to redefining “traditional” marriage).

And this judgmental attitude spans beyond feminists to pretty much everyone — I do not envy people who are engaged or married and constantly fielding unsolicited advice about how their wedding should be, what they’re doing wrong, why they shouldn’t get married, why their potential spouse is a dud, etc. Generally, we should be glad when our family and friends have found happiness and want to share it with us in whatever way is most comfortable for them, but instead we often bludgeon them over the head with our opinion of what would really make them happy and what they should be doing.

The lesson? Before interjecting your two cents, try to respect the people and the relationship you want to criticize, and consider that them doing things differently than you would doesn’t mean they’re doing them wrong. And if there is a ceremony, you can hope the officiant will ask if anyone objects and then you can go to town.

P.S. I hear it only gets worse when it comes to parenting.

N.H. councilor doesn’t want to fund people’s ‘good time’

July 12, 2011

The train of Planned Parenthood defunding continues to chug along, with New Hampshire being the latest to reject state funding for the family-planning organization.

If you were unsure whether these efforts to defund were about misguided punishment for non-procreation-related sex, then Councilor Raymond Wieczorek unequivocally answered your question in an interview with The Concord Monitor:

“If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?”

This was regarding state funding for contraception use. Wieczorek seems to think that punishing people for enjoying sex is more important than preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections or preventing unplanned pregnancies. Does no one else sense a double meaning in “let them pay for it”? If they want to have a good time, they should have to pay for it monetarily but also pay for it by getting STIs and becoming pregnant? What a sweet sentiment.

Oddly enough, Wieczorek does not oppose funding for STI testing, which to me signals that his disdain for Planned Parenthood is related to non-procreation-sex. Or it might also be premarital sex, and Wieczorek doesn’t realize that married women frequent Planned Parenthood as well. One day, maybe politicians will realize that its mission is mainly to provide affordable healthcare to low-income women, and that it’s not a seedy underground club where teenagers can have orgies in the waiting room.

Recent college grads: Please postpone pet ownership

July 1, 2011

Recent college graduates — I want to have an intervention with you. If you were lucky enough to land an internship or job after college, then congrats! You’re on cloud nine, being an adult, getting a paycheck (I hope), and probably either moving into own your place or thinking about it. And in between lamenting that your college years are over and trying not to get scammed by your new cable company, you probably have considered this phrase: “I want a pet!”

You probably shouldn’t get one, though.

You might be thinking, “Cathy, are you serious right now?! You are a very proud cat lady who doesn’t stop posting pictures of your two adorable cats on Facebook. Why do you want to stifle my happiness?!” It’s not that adopting animals from animal shelters and humane societies is bad, but that in your excitement about being independent and adult and living in the real world, you might impulsively get a pet without taking into consideration the cons of pet ownership as a young college graduate.

1. Finances

Pets are expensive. I absolutely cannot stress this enough — I had a cat growing up and thought this made me fully aware of the costs of pet ownership. In fact, I was dumb enough to adopt not one but TWO kittens while I was unemployed in the fall after I graduated college. I have savings, I said to myself, and these cats will bring me joy in my time of sadness about being jobless.

One, kittens and puppies and baby animals are exponentially more expensive than older animals (by older I mean a few years old, maybe 2-5 years old, as really old animals need more vet care and can be really expensive also). Not only do you have to pay whatever fee from the shelter, but also a huge pile of vet costs from vaccination, neutering, and any sickness that may arise courtesy of their sensitive little immune systems.

When I picked out my two kittens (Asher and Stella), they were both healthy (and adorable).

I came to pick them up a week later, and Asher had an upper respiratory infection. So here’s what my vet bills/shelter bills looked like from day one:


Asher: $80 (microchip, collar, flea treatment, feline leukemia/AIDS shot, rabies shot, misc. taxes and fees)

Stella: $80 (microchip, collar, flea treatment, feline leukemia/AIDS shot, rabies shot, misc. taxes and fees)

TOTAL: $160


Asher: $152.63 (neutering, after coupon from humane society that knocked $36 off the price)

Stella: $150 (can’t find her invoice for being spayed, but we’ll assume it cost about the same)

Both: $69 (got antibiotics for Asher’s upper respiratory infection; antibiotics for Stella post-surgery; charged for seeing the vet)

TOTAL: $371.63


$300 pet deposit per cat

TOTAL: $600

So all told, in just the first week of having my kittens, they cost me $971.63, not including purchasing food, cat litter, food dishes, and some cat toys. It’s safe to say that it was instantly a $1,000 investment from the start, though I eventually got the full $600 pet deposit back (thank goodness the landlord didn’t see they had climbed the curtains and put lots of little baby kitten claw holes in them). Some apartments make you pay pet rent; some places make you pay a non-refundable pet deposit. So this was $500/cat.

And these are just the basic, mandatory fees I had to pay to adopt from the humane society. I had to have them microchipped and neutered through this humane society, and you could avoid those costs by getting a cat that is already fixed or by using other means (e.g. Craigslist) to get your cats. But you should still have them spayed/neutered and vaccinated.

I hadn’t expected Asher to have an upper respiratory infection, and it turns out he is prone to them. These vet bills? The prices were LOW compared to the robbery committed by the vet hospitals in my current town, which has a higher cost of living. I found that out when I took Asher to the vet one evening because he wasn’t eating and was coughing and wasn’t destroying everything in my apartment per usual.

The bill: $277.10.

And then he got Stella sick.

The bill: $224.00.

So $501.10 down the drain later, I realized that my experience with a healthy cat who never needed to go to the vet was not universal. My cats get sick, and it’s a lot of money to get them better. You can purchase pet insurance, but I still am convinced it’d be a waste for me and my cats. So now my tab is about $1,500, making it about $750 per cat. This doesn’t include all the cat litter, cat food, and other things I’ve bought them. I’ve had them for almost two years, so if I bought two bags of cat food a month ($9 x 2 = $18) and only one big box of cat litter ($12) in the 20 months I’ve had them, that’s $600. Did I mention their yearly shots and rabies certificates? That’ll be another $254.15.

So these cats have cost me about $1,177 each, so personally that’s $2,354. I also buy random things — cleaner to clean up the massive amounts of cat vomit; scrub brushers to clean said vomit out of carpet; costs of replacing things that they’ve ruined through bodily function or by ripping things to pieces. Exhibit A:

I’d say I’ve spent at least $2,500 on them. Want to get them declawed so they don’t tear your stuff to pieces? That’ll cost a few hundred, too.

In discussing this topic with my boyfriend, he stressed that these are minimal expenditures and are even higher when it comes to dogs. Dogs’ cost for vet visits, boarding, obedience training — all much higher. He estimated that for his post-college dog, the costs were about $6,000. Though that included treatment for an illness, these are common costs that you have to take into consideration, especially if you get a puppy or a much older dog.

2. Apartment limitations

Pets severely limit you when apartment hunting. When I search for apartments on craigslist in my price range and limit the search to DC and have no pet restrictions, I get 790 results. That number plummets to 230 when I mark that cats need to be OK. It falls even further to 135 when I include dogs.

Landlords don’t want to deal with pets, and if you’re even looking to fill a room in a group house, roommates might restrict pets. Apartments that do allow pets are more expensive, and they often charge pet deposits or pet rent if you want to keep pets there. You also need to keep in mind how much room your pet needs when considering apartment size — bigger apartments mean more money, but you can’t be living in a studio apartment in the middle of the city with a Great Dane.

3. Inconveniences

You are the caregiver of this pet, and you are making a years-long commitment to taking care of them. This commitment for cats means food, water, litterbox maintenance, and grooming. Let me tell you what’s inconvenient — having cat hair on EVERY SURFACE of my apartment. Get an apartment with carpet, at least it will suck in the cat hair and you can vacuum it up. Tumbleweeds of cat hair float around my fake hardwood floors because they just shed constantly.

But cats are more convenient than dogs. Cats are independent, and if need be, you could leave them alone for a couple of days with water and food and a clean litterbox and they’d get along fine. You can go out at night and not have to worry about them — dogs are another story. You need to take dogs out to use the bathroom, you need to dedicate time to training them, and you need to board them if you’re going to be gone (or find a dog-sitter) for longer than half a day.

As a college grad, a puppy especially can put a cramp in your social life. You have to be extremely responsible and calculate when the dog went out last, how long it can wait to use the bathroom again, and when you need to be home to let the dog out. My kittens have needed antibiotics several times, and they need to be administered every 12 hours on the dot — something you have to keep in mind when making plans. And as kittens and puppies, they really can’t be left alone for long periods of time. As a kitten, Asher once got stuck behind the refrigerator — I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I were out at a bar when that happened.

In conclusion, adopting pets from animal shelters and humane societies is great — don’t get me wrong. But being a young college graduate, you need to seriously consider holding off on this commitment for a few years. Pets are very costly for someone who is just starting out, and there are lots of other adult costs you will be bombarded with post-graduation (rent, utilities, security deposits, car maintenance, college loans, insurance/cell phone if you haven’t already been paying them, groceries, etc.).

Please, please, please think twice before jumping the gun on pet ownership. I love my cats dearly, but I make a lot of sacrifices that I didn’t expect to make because of them. It’s really tempting to be independent, on your own, and sometimes in a new city by yourself and think, “I should get a cat or a dog,” but be ready for the financial responsibility, time commitment, and inconveniences that come with pet ownership.

On a happier note, cats are excellent mouse killers, and I want everyone to know that I do love my cats, despite the trouble they sometimes cause me.

But had someone told me then that in two years, I’d have spent $2,500 on them, I’d have thought a lot longer and harder about adopting them.

Ohio gov. signs budget bill, ups the ante on abortion limits

July 1, 2011

You know, everyone was worried that Kansas would be the first state to effectively ban abortion, but Ohio is giving it a run for its money. Today, Gov. John Kasich signed a budget that would ban hospitals and other facilities from performing elective abortions if they receive any state funding.

Combine that with the “heartbeat bill” — which bans abortions if a heartbeat can be detected, typically before a woman would even realize she is pregnant or could confirm it through pregnancy test — that has passed the House and now is in the GOP-controlled Senate, and Ohio is joining states like Kansas, Indiana, and South Dakota that are aiming to effectively ban abortion piece by piece.

Longer wait times, pregnancy crisis center consultation requirements (both part of a South Dakota law that was blocked by a federal judge yesterday), stricter facility regulation (luckily in Kansas, one of the three abortion clinics in the state managed to get a license despite the new regulations), restrictions on what places can perform elective abortions, defunding organizations like Planned Parenthood — all attempts to slowly, indirectly restrict abortion access. Of course, restrictions like the  Ohio “heartbeat bill” directly run counter to Roe v. Wade — but I guess the state government wanted a back-up plan for restricting abortion access in case that bill doesn’t pass the Senate.