There are few options for male birth control outside of condoms and vasectomies, which leaves those who can get pregnant holding most of the contraceptive responsibilities. Women obviously bear the brunt of this reality through pregnancy and childbirth, but it doesn't stop there. The social, educational, and professional changes that often come with a child are not to be overlooked.
It’s undeniable that those who shoulder the weight of contraception, childcare, and frankly any "repercussions" of sex are not those making decisions when it comes to legislating these issues. To call this dynamic as a broken system is an understatement. Let us explain.
What are our lawmakers up to?
Lawmakers and judges at the local, state, and federal levels are making decisions that impact our lives every single day. The policymakers responsible for the more than 530 anti-abortion laws and bills introduced this year alone that are intended to police your birth control are the same people who are sitting on their hands when it comes to paid leave and childcare support—all burdens shouldered by women, especially Black women. Time and time again, laws are passed under the guise of “helping women” that barely address these systemic inequalities. Case and point: the United States is the only industrialized nation without guaranteed maternity leave, and is number one in maternal mortality for any high-income country.
We carry the weight of unfair policies everywhere we go
While keeping up with currents events in Washington, D.C. or in your state legislature can tough to follow, these policies creep into our daily lives in very real ways:
At the pharmacy: Despite the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, many women still pay for contraception due to lax government enforcement. And for those of us who need the morning-after pill (an over-the-counter medication), many pharmacies keep it behind the counter—and six states currently have laws in place that allow pharmacists to refuse dispensing for religious or moral reasons.
At check-out: Ever heard of the pink tax? It’s the extra cost to women’s-marketed products compared to men’s, which can set us back up to 50% more for near-identical products at their core (think: razors, shampoo, and even pens). And don’t even get us started on tampons. More than half of US states consider tampons and pads “luxury products” and are taxed as such, raising the price and putting these products farther out of reach for those with low incomes.
In the home: The pandemic made clear that childcare affordability and availability are directly tied to women’s ability to work or in many cases, to stay in the workforce at all. Without public resources to support working parents, women and people who menstruate they serve as free childcare providers on top of bringing home a paycheck.
Change is hard to come by without true representation
While we’ve made progress by electing women and people of color into office, our government barely resembles the people it represents. The result: harmful legislation and inaction fueled by patriarchal norms.
Just last week, the Senate, a group of 100 people elected to represent us, failed to pass a proposal to protect abortion: a medical procedure that the majority of Americans believe should be accessible. While this decision impacts women and other people who menstruate who are of reproductive age (roughly 15 to 49), the decision makers only included:
Low-income people and communities of color are hardest hit:
Stripping people of access to basic reproductive care while making them jump through hoops to access basic and necessary care has an outsized impact on communities of color. Last year in Texas, legislators passed a near total abortion ban, a reinforcing a broken health care system that has failed Black and brown people for years. What’s more, Black women and people who menstruate also have maternal mortality rates 3-4 times higher than white women due to lack of access to quality health care and implicit bias in medicine.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the ripple effects will be felt by all women and people who menstruate, their families, and all of society that depends on their free labor. When we lose our right to decide what we do with our bodies, our lives, education, careers, and more are on the line. In denying us our basic right to critical health care, these laws will threaten career advancement, push families deeper into poverty, and further exacerbate the deep inequities that already exist in our society.
The burden of pregnancy prevention, child bearing, and often child rearing is ours to bear. Attacks on our reproductive rights are efforts to control us. And it won’t stop there: birth control and emergency contraception are next.
Women and people who menstruate deserve access to quality care, the same quality care that our male counterparts rarely go without—full stop.