Sunday, February 12, 2012

It's About Health, Not Religious Freedom

This post is quite the departure from how I usually use this blog, but this issue concerns me enough that I will use every outlet at my disposal to get my story out there, because my story is the story of many women. 

I know I have a lot of friends and family against mandated coverage of birth control & other issues surrounding women's health for moral/religious reasons. There are a lot of articles out there arguing both sides of the current political debate surrounding this issue, such as this one about Rick Santorum's stance. I know articles like this mostly only reach people who already agree with the side of the issue it argues. But this is so important, too important for us not to listen to each other. It's such a personal issue for me, and it is difficult to discuss publicly, but this debate is making something that should be personal very very public. In this political climate, it's important for women to share their personal stories to reframe the discussion. Please, even if you ignore every article out there, at least read my personal story to see why it's not an issue of sex or morality for me or my Republican, Catholic parents. This mostly food-related blog may not be the best forum to change people's minds, but the framing of this issue is hurting so many, and this is one way available to me to share my story. Feel free to pass it along. 

I, like many many women, have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Hormonal birth control has saved me from a lot of pain and many other medical problems including costly, invasive emergency surgeries (after having gone through one before being treated). It has since probably saved my ability to have children in the future, and may prevent my condition from causing cancer. It very literally may save my life. And even though sex & birth control had nothing to do with why they prescribed it to a 15-yr-old sexually inactive girl, my family's insurance did not cover my medicine because my very conservative, religious state didn't require them to. Luckily, my very Republican, CATHOLIC parents were willing to pay to protect my health and were financially able to. I would certainly not call my treatment cheap, or "a few dollars a month." But they never even considered it a moral issue, not for a moment, not even for the blink of an eye. Because of COURSE they would protect their daughter. 

Yet the same insurance in the same state covered Viagra. Which one is all about sex?* And even if it IS about just sex for some women who take it, one person has a different moral code and religion than another. It is their right to make those decisions, and hormonal birth control is valid preventative medicine in those cases. Let us choose what to do with our bodies, and you can choose what to do with yours. Viagra should be covered for sexual health, as should drugs for women's sexual health. Denying coverage changes neither behavior nor beliefs, and this argument should not be framed as such when people's health & lives are at stake. Everyone should of COURSE want to protect their daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, nieces, cousins, friends - ALL the women in their lives. That should be our moral obligation.

And remember, making it available does not force anyone to use birth control. If you are morally or religiously against birth control, don't use it. To the Catholic Church and other religions against birth control: You have the religious freedom to preach to your congregants not to use birth control. They have the religious freedom to follow your teachings and to not use it. Availability does nothing to alter teachings or beliefs. If someone doesn't believe in it, having hormonal birth control covered by their insurance is not going to change that. Not having it covered by insurance will not alter my or anyone else's opinion that it is okay to use, but it can seriously affect someone's health. This issue should not be framed as a religious freedom debate. This is about health. And that's how we should talk about it.

*Note: There are also non-sexual applications for Viagra, but I would like to see numbers comparing percentages of Viagra prescriptions used solely for sexual purposes vs. percentages of birth control prescriptions used solely for sexual purposes. Viagra is openly acknowledged to be used mostly to treat ED, even in prime time commercials - that's how comfortable society is with men's sexuality vs. women's. And women are prescribed Viagra for sexual function, too, but I wonder what attitudes would be toward it if it was used by mostly women. The current discussion frames women's sexuality as immoral and icky - to the point public figures are willing to risk our health to signal to voters their negative feelings toward it, and yet men's sexuality is freely acknowledged as acceptable and a RIGHT. Let's move on from letting sexism irrationally dictate our health care. Let's reframe this discussion. NOW.

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