Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Teen Mom 2: Coal mining, child support, and self-doubt

January 20, 2012

Where to begin this week with Teen Mom — coal mining? Child support? Jenelle’s ability to somehow convince everyone in her life that her often delusional perspective makes total sense? Let’s take these topics on, inverted pyramid-style.

Teen pregnancy, class, and coal mining 

I never thought I’d see the day when two of the topics that really interest me — teen pregnancy and coal mining — would intersect, but this episode made subtle mention of them. Leah briefly mentions that her husband, Corey, is taking a coal mining certification test. Later, Corey makes a quick remark about spending his days working in a coal mine.

Leah and Corey live in Elkview, West Virginia, a city surrounded by coal mines that sit just an hour and a half from Raleigh, West Virginia, where the Upper Big Branch mine disaster killed 29 coal miners in 2010. When mining companies are lax about following — or in some cases blatantly ignore — safety regulations because they want to maximize profit, coal miners are put in extreme danger.

The job already puts coal miners at increased risk for health problems such as black lung, not to mention the higher rates of heart, lung, and kidney disease found in those who live in mining communities.

I wonder how much of Corey’s decision was based on his own socioeconomic standing. The Charleston area’s unemployment rate has steadily been decreasing, dropping from 7.6 percent in June 2011 to 6.4 percent in November 2011, but Corey is also limited in his job search because he has a high school education and needs a full-time, decent-paying job because he has a family to support — and coal mining jobs have an average starting salary of $60,000 per year. That’s quite a luring paycheck for someone with a family and no college education.

With 17.8 percent of West Virginians living below the poverty level — higher than the national average of 14.3 percent — residents are already at a disadvantage class-wise. The percentage of people with a high school diploma is 3 percent below the national average, with the percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree 10.4 percent lower than the national average. Born into this socioeconomic scenario, teens like Corey and Leah would have to work harder than many to move above these statistics. Add two children into the mix, and Corey likely sees coal mining as one of his only options — which is an unfortunate predicament considering how dangerous it is.

It’s this cycle that keeps low-income people in coal mines, putting their health and safety at higher risk than higher income people who can afford a college education that won’t leave them in the coal mines (they’ll have equally or more lucrative career options with less danger to their health and safety). I know Leah gets some type of compensation for the show, so I’d be interested to know how that all works and to hear his motivation for choosing this job.

Jo and child support

This argument is a he-said, she-said battle. Kailyn says that Jo isn’t around when Isaac visits him, and that Jo wants to split Isaac’s expenses right down the middle — something she thinks is unfair given their unequal incomes and the fact that Jo still lives at home with his parents. Jo thinks that Kailyn is trying to get Jo to support her — claiming that she wants to live off him and the government, refusing to get a better job because she wants to work with her boyfriend.

I’m not sure what the arrangement was, but Kailyn isn’t in the wrong to formally ask for child support. They’ve had trouble in the past coming to verbal agreements when it comes to custody and had to go to court for that, and Kailyn seems to be struggling even with nonprofit assistance with her housing. Jo isn’t supporting Kailyn, but providing her with money to feed, clothe, shelter, and provide for Isaac — costs they should be splitting down the middle anyway.

And does anyone else take issue with Jo just devolving to call Kailyn a bitch whenever he isn’t getting his way? She’s a bitch, a piece of shit, etc., always being called these things in front of their son — it just makes me cringe.

Jenelle’s running mouth

As an aside, does anyone else notice that Jenelle speaks so assuredly that everyone around her just nods their head, agreeing that her logic makes sense, when really she is just spouting bullshit? I think I’ve heard her say that she needs to “get established” and “establish herself” about 974 times ever since her episode of 16 and Pregnant, and I still have no idea what it means.

It’s very peculiar, literally watching someone deceive themselves on camera — watching a teenager talk pretty maturely as if she knows everything about the world but then lives as that immature, still-learning young person who only seems like she actually knows what she’s talking about. Having the knowledge — yes, I need to go to school and get a job and stay away from my deadbeat boyfriend — to create a formula for success, but completely not listening to her own advice.

I think I find it fascinating because I have a tendency to try and find assurance in my own decisions by talking to other people, explaining my thought process and the reasons why I did something in an effort to really convince myself — rather than them  — that my decisions were the right ones. I think people especially do this when they know deep down they’re making poor decisions, but they want to display a confident exterior so people won’t question or challenge these poor decisions.

Advertisements

Santorum: Life-saving abortion not OK (unless it’s my wife)

January 7, 2012

I’ve been a bit zoned out of this race for the Republican presidential nomination, but I’ve known one thing for a very long time: I don’t like Rick Santorum.

He’s sexist (thinks women should stay at home and not work; he wants to eliminate federal funding for contraception; and don’t worry, his stance on abortion is the meat of this blog post); he’s racist (saying just last week in Iowa that he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money”; he also said last year that Obama should be anti-abortion because he’s black, which could be taken in several racism-driven directions); and he’s homophobic (he wants the tax code to reward traditional, heterosexual married couples; he’s compared homosexuality to loving your mother-in-law, incest, adultery, polygamy, and bigamy).

Keeping with his tendency to spout complete bullshit out of his mouth that makes no sense at all, it’s impossible to ignore his stance on abortion. That it should be banned even in cases of rape and incest; that he thinks exceptions to save the life of the mother are bogus; and even that abortion is to blame for Social Security problems.

Which is why I find it so interesting that his own wife suffered pregnancy complications that threatened her own life, leading to the induced delivery of a fetus that was not, and would have never been, viable. There is debate on whether this was an abortion (his wife went into early labor, and doctors induced further rather than trying to stop the labor), but I agree with Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan on this: The real problem here is extremists who outright condemn something like, say, taking any medical steps to save the life of the mother if those will harm the fetus — that is, until that fetus is harming someone who they care about.

Because really, it’s easy to stand at a podium and say abortion is murder, but it’s more complicated than that. Many abortions, especially late-term abortions, are because of medical complications that threaten the mother’s life and/or make the fetus inviable. Karen Santorum’s fetus was actually becoming an infection that would inevitably become fatal, so how would letting her die be some heroic move? How are all-out abortion bans anything but a manifestation of stubbornness, an unwillingness to admit that, yes, unfortunately, the body can naturally struggle with a pregnancy? Things go wrong, and the priority should be ensuring that the mother doesn’t die in the process.

But it’s different when suddenly it’s not some un-wed teenage mother trying to get an abortion — suddenly, it’s your sister; your wife; your friend; suddenly, politicians are faced with the shocking fact that pregnancies with complications can happen to them, and that women — who have only been seen as baby incubators in campaign speeches — actually have names, faces, families, and futures. That life-saving procedures aren’t just “tactics” to foil abortion bans, but they are “tactics” to save lives.

I think that’s about the end of my rant — anti-abortion politicians aren’t my cup of tea, but those who want all-out abortion bans, even when the mother’s life is in danger, really baffle me. But I think when actually faced with a situation where these politicians’ relatives and loved ones were the women who might die without medical intervention — which would subsequently end the pregnancy — they wouldn’t be singing the same tune.

As Ryan said it best, this is called “hypocrisy,” so I’ll add yet another thing to list of reasons why I don’t like Rick Santorum: He’s a hypocrite.

Teen Mom: Maturity = talking about sex, not just having it

December 28, 2011

New Year’s resolution: Start blogging again! It’s not January yet, but I did just watch an episode of Teen Mom 2 that caught my attention. Nothing like getting a head-start on my resolution!

So, this week Kailyn decided to get an IUD, an intrauterine device, which is T-shaped and can stay in the uterus for as long as five years. It works to prevent egg fertilization, and it’s something Kailyn decided to try because she had trouble remembering to take her pill every day. Though she is using protection when having sex with her boyfriend, Jordan, she makes the decision to further prevent any possibility of pregnancy with the Mirena IUD.

What gets me is that Jordan was extremely squeamish when Kailyn told him about the IUD. She admitted beforehand that they never really talk about sex — they just have sex — and her prediction that Jordan would be awkward was right. She wanted to let him know about her decision, and he looked uncomfortable, remarked that it was embarrassing, and later apologized for his awkward reaction.

My theory is that if you’re mature enough to have sex, then you need to be mature enough to talk about it. Talking about sex can be awkward, especially when you haven’t brought up the topic with a partner before. But this lack of communication has a significant affect on the lack of contraceptive use, whether it’s people feeling awkward about mentioning using protection during the act or one partner assuming the other has the birth control covered without any verbal confirmation.

So you have to weigh — is this awkward moment more difficult to deal with than an unplanned pregnancy? And if you’re afraid of what your partner will say, is that a red flag regarding your relationship? If you take contraception seriously but you’re afraid your partner won’t agree to use any, is that really something to compromise about? But all these questions assume a certain outcome — you won’t actually know your partner’s response until you talk about it.

According to one study, kids whose parents talked to them about sex as a teenager were more likely to delay sex and practice safe sex than kids whose parents did not talk to them about sex. And it’s important to start those conversations early, for the air of shame and humiliation to be taken away from sex — because yeah, it’s awkward as a parent to talk to your kid about sex. But if you set the example that talking about sex is taboo, then an unhealthy cycle of silence begins — then young people think it’s unacceptable to talk about sex, and they feel uneasy about voicing concerns and asking questions.

It’s obvious I haven’t blogged in a while, as I’m just being long-winded here for the sake of hearing myself type. Anyway, it was an interesting scene — two adults who have no qualms about having sex with each other, having difficulty actually talking about something they do regularly. This communication problem is something adults of all ages experience, and addressing it begins with removing the stigma about admitting out loud that, yes, you’re having sex and there’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Report confirms abstinence-only & anti-Planned-Parenthood arguments are illogical

August 24, 2011

This review from the Guttmacher Institute about unintended pregnancy rates in the U.S. has some really interesting, telling statistics. Not only is there basic info about unintended pregnancy rates per capita, but it also includes numbers — by state — on percentages of total pregnancies that are unintended, how much it costs the state, how many were publicly funded, and how much the rate would increase in the absence of clinic services, a la family-planning clinics like Planned Parenthood.

These statistics tell important narratives in the face of attacks on reproductive rights and comprehensive sex education. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, recently was asked by a reporter why he advocated abstinence-only education when it obviously isn’t working, as Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Perry’s response was basically, “Nuh-uh!” But taking a look at these statistics, it’s very clear that Texas has a problem with unintended pregnancies generally.

Texas has the second-highest number of unintended pregnancies in the country, which is no surprise given its large population. Per capita, its rate is 11th highest, overshadowed by states like Mississippi, California, Delaware, Nevada, and also the District of Columbia. Texas, however, is the second-highest spender on public funds when it comes to births from unintended pregnancies. It’s obvious that abstinence-only education is not only inefficient, but that the unintended pregnancies resulting from lack of education about or access to contraception really takes a toll on the budget.

The report says that women who use contraception consistently account for 5 percent of unintended pregnancies. So if 95 percent of unintended pregnancies are from women not using contraception consistently or at all, doesn’t it make sense to focus on education and access to contraception? Yep. Wouldn’t it be more fiscally conservative to educate people about contraception so that they can better prevent these unintended pregnancies, thereby also saving the government money? Yep.

That’s where these ideas of being fiscally conservative smash into moral ideology — which is more important, legislating your personal religious beliefs or adopting a curriculum that best guarantees lowering these rates and consequently the funds spent on them? I’d say the latter.

Another statistic that really struck me was how much the number of unintended pregnancies would increase without family-planning clinics. States where legislators have succeeded in denying state funding for Planned Parenthood — Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin — could see their rates of unintended pregnancy increase by 50, 38, 34, 32, and 55 percent, respectively. And these attempts to defund are attempts to shut down these clinics because 3 percent of what they do is abortions. Can you really look at these numbers, see how dramatically rates of unintended pregnancy would increase without these clinics, and tell me that closing them is a great idea?

The Guttmacher report is only five pages long, and it’s definitely worth reading even if just for the charts and graphs. If you think there are a lot of unintended pregnancies now, just think how that number will skyrocket without clinics like Planned Parenthood. Vermont’s rate would jump 116 percent. Alaska’s would swell by 96 percent. If legislators want to “make a point” by defunding family-planning clinics, these numbers show they’ll definitely make a point — that they are incompetent.

What do shoes, Frappuccino and birth control have in common?

August 5, 2011

That unlike many women in this country, Fox News commentator Dana Perino can afford all three, or at least that’s what I infer from this tidbit:

Now, I might be for [free birth control], if I didn’t see a lot of people out there able to buy a new pair of shoes. I mean, we have to be able to make some choices here … How are we going to define poor? Because who is not in that category now who can’t get free birth control anyway? … If you can afford a $5 Frappuccino at Starbucks, look, you can pay your $5 co-pay.

Where oh where to begin? I guess I’ll just make a list:

  1. Sometimes people need new shoes? Is Dana Perino’s definition of poor that you need to be walking around barefoot and unable to afford a pair of shoes, and then she’ll consider that you need free birth control? People just don’t look poor enough to her yet. Maybe she means that she sees a lot of people buying shoes, and knows they are buying Louboutins instead of a Nuva Ring? Maybe the “lot of people” you see buying shoes aren’t the same ones who can’t afford birth control. Just a thought.
  2. We do have to be able to make some choices! Like the choice not to get pregnant! But it’s unfortunate when things like income don’t cover or just barely cover bills, basic necessities, etc. That often takes away women’s financial ability to afford birth control, which takes away her choice to prevent unplanned pregnancies. I know, I know, maybe she just shouldn’t have sex. Shouldn’t a woman have the choice to engage in intercourse though? How about with her husband? I guess this point is moot if you think sex is only for procreation, as you probably wouldn’t want women to have the choice to have sex for pleasure at all.
  3. You know, free birth control currently doesn’t just fall from the sky. When you try to take away government funding for family-planning clinics like Planned Parenthood or shut down family-planning clinics by re-regulating them as hospitals, you are attacking the very institutions that give out that free birth control. So yeah, thanks for suggesting women already have places to go for free birth control while simultaneously trying to shut those places down. That makes a lot of sense.
  4. You know, this “you aren’t poor unless you can’t afford to put shoes on your feet” definition for low-income is a bit ridiculous. There are plenty of people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and birth control isn’t “free” for them using a sliding scale like Planned Parenthood does when deciding how much patients will owe for birth control. There are a lot of women who fall into this “I make too much money to qualify for free birth control,” but “I don’t make enough money to afford expensive co-pays” category.

    Also, being poor doesn’t mean that free birth control magically appears on your doorstep. Being eligible to “get” it and actually having the means to “get” it are different. You have to travel to get it. Sometimes, you have to travel really far to get it, because there are only one or two places in your entire state where you can get free birth control. That takes time, a mode of transportation, and the money to use that transportation. I guess you could walk a few hundred miles to get there, just don’t let Dana catch you buying new shoes for the journey.

  5. Does everyone really think birth control only costs $5? Some generic, really popular forms do, but not all birth controls are made alike. Women react differently to different kinds, health histories would steer your doctor away from prescribing you certain kinds, and they can cost $50 or more per co-pay. That’s a lot of foregone Frappuccinos.

    Not all forms are taken orally, either. Nuva Rings and IUDs are very effective, but Nuva Rings cost $50 or more each month, and an IUD is an upfront cost of $175 to $500. Now if I just stop drinking my daily frappuccino before work, I can afford an IUD in … five months. Oh, that’s assuming I have enough money to enjoy an expensive drink at Starbucks everyday, but really, who doesn’t?

And she wasn’t the only one with something to say about birth control. Also on the panel was Andrea Tantaros:

Most poor people can [afford birth control], it’s already provided. Why should taxpayers have to fund breast pumps, birth control — look, women should be responsible for their own ovaries. That is the bottom line.

I think we already covered that not everyone has access to and/or should be taking the free or relatively cheap kinds of birth control. Taxpayers should fund it because birth control for all women serves a greater community purpose. Fewer unplanned pregnancies, less strain on government assistance, less people needing to forego an education to take care of a child — all good things.

But I’m so glad to see Andrea talking about women being responsible for their own ovaries! Women should be responsible for their own ovaries, in fact, their entire uterus and all those other reproductive organs, too. Which is why they want to take birth control, but there are financial barriers that make it difficult to do consistently or at all. So this removal of co-pay only facilitates responsibility!

All this talk about women having choices and how their ovaries are their own responsibility makes for great pro-choice arguments! Thanks for the talking points, ladies!

(Thanks to Ms. for originally blogging about this.) 

 

 

College-aged veterans 6 times more likely to attempt suicide

August 4, 2011

Today USA Today reported that college-aged veterans are six times more likely to attempt suicide than other college students, and are at an even higher suicide risk than veterans who go to the Veterans Affairs (VA) office for help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

As the article notes, research on veterans and PTSD is usually done on veterans in general, but not focused on young, college-aged people specifically. Though the results of this research are jolting, they aren’t necessarily surprising. Studies show that the brain doesn’t fully mature until a person reaches their mid-20s, and that adolescent brains have more difficulty dealing with stress than adults whose brains have fully matured. Coping with trauma is that much more difficult for a younger veteran.

And it’s unclear whether colleges have the health services needed to help treat PTSD symptoms. Some colleges have VA offices, and the VA has a program called “VetSuccess” to help veterans transition back into civilian life, complete with an on-campus arm, but this program is only at eight campuses nationwide. Student health services alone can’t be relied on — at my alma mater, the counseling services available carried a two- or three-week wait time and were only free for the first few visits.

Aside from a lack of treatment options, trying to assimilate back to civilian life at college — possibly away from your support system — heightens the feelings of isolation that already come with PTSD. Luckily, there are chapters of Student Veterans of America (SVA) across the country, which help fight that feeling of isolation and the stress of adapting to a new environment by connecting student veterans on campus and providing other college- and career-related resources.

Some cities do have specialized programs for young veterans, such asVetSTRONG in San Francisco, and in 2008 the Department of Labor started the “American’s Heroes at Work” project to help veterans with traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD find jobs after returning to civilian life. More attention is being paid to young veterans, especially as they are re-deployed for multiple tours of duty, but a lot of these organizations are still in their infancy. This means the programs themselves might be smaller and less accessible to some vets, or that young vets might not be aware they exist.

So while there has been progress recently (likely in response to research that said one in five veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of PTSD), many college campuses still simply don’t have the proper tools to deal with combat-related PTSD. The authors of the study suggest colleges increase screening for PTSD if students have been in the military, possibly catching signs of suicidal tendencies or behavior early on. That, along with a widespread and dedicated attempt to raise awareness about student veteran support groups and access to treatment resources, will be key to lowering this high rate of attempted suicide among college-aged veterans.

Do you think you might have PTSD symptoms, or know someone who does? Click here and read about the symptoms of PTSD.

Do you think someone you know is suicidal? Click here and read about suicide prevention, and pay special attention to signs of suicidal behavior that are specific to veterans. Click here for more information and resources about suicide prevention.

The VA has a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline that you can call if you are either contemplating suicide or a family member or friend might be contemplating suicide: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Click here to start your own chapter or affiliate a current student veteran organization with SVA. 

Find your local VA center by clicking here.

RHONY reunion: Success, alcoholism not mutually exclusive

August 3, 2011

On the second part of the Real Housewives of New York reunion special last night, there was a lot of bickering and interrupting and eye-rolling. But what really stuck out was the discussion about whether Ramona is an alcoholic, and Ramona’s subsequent declaration that she couldn’t be so successful if she had a problem with alcohol.

This is when the term “functioning alcoholic” was thrown around, with the blond side of the couch saying the term was an oxymoron and that you can’t be successful and be addicted to alcohol. Now I’m not saying Ramona is an alcoholic — I can’t simply as a viewer of an edited TV show diagnose her. But I can take issue with her comments that (1) wine isn’t alcohol and (2) if she were an alcoholic, she wouldn’t be able to manage a successful empire.

Firstly, wine is alcohol. It might be classier than beer or liquor in social circles, and it might be good for your health depending on the medical studies you read. But it still is a type of alcohol, still can cause liver disease like any other type of alcohol, and still can breed and feed an alcohol addiction.

And “functioning alcoholics” are common, as about half of all alcoholics are high-functioning. They have college degrees, good jobs, families, and to the outside world seem very successful. It’s really dangerous to adopt and publicize the notion that alcoholism and success are mutually exclusive, because it misleads an audience that might use that explanation to shrug off their own alcoholism or the alcoholism of a friend or family member.

Sarah Allen Benton, author of the book Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic, told The New York Times that this enabled her own alcoholism:

Having outside accomplishments led me and others to excuse my drinking and avoid categorizing me as an alcoholic. My success was the mask that disguised the underlying demon and fed my denial.

We have a lot of mental profiles for what we think specific people look like — we think a drug addict looks like X, a terrorist looks like Y, an alcoholic looks like Z. We probably wouldn’t look at President George W. Bush, Winston Churchill, Stephen King, or Mary Tyler Moore and think “alcoholic,” because we think addiction is obvious and conspicuous. But these people and many other prominent faces, as well as countless other successful people, have been addicted to alcohol privately while enjoying success publicly.

High-functioning alcoholics often implant themselves in scenes where there are a lot of other people drinking so they blend into the crowd, and their success sinks them into a deeper denial than a non-high-functioning alcoholic because they don’t see a problem — if the money and opportunity keep rolling in, why mess with the formula? Regardless, they still constantly think about drinking, have trouble with controlling how much they drink, and use alcohol as a reward for their successes.

Also, alcoholism can be a deadly disease, and I don’t appreciate the housewives who scoffed at the idea that successful people could be alcoholics. It wasn’t just that some of them were trying to defend Ramona because she was their friend and being attacked by several people for her penchant for pinot gregio — it was that there was an air of superiority in how they quickly labeled as absurd the idea that a successful person would fall victim to alcohol abuse. Newsflash: alcoholism isn’t just for the plebeians.

Click here for information about alcoholism, support groups, and professional treatment.

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.