Presidency vs. Pregnancy— political climate brings uncertainty for women’s health

By Blair Paddock

Taking the pill is an automatic, mindless activity for many women. However, a new political administration may reduce access to birth control, bringing uncertainty to an habit that millions of women take for granted.

The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which mandated insurers cover birth control, and the de-funding of Planned Parenthood both threaten the accessibility of birth control.

Despite these obstacles, Nicole Williams, founder of the Gynecological Institute of Chicago said she wants women to have even greater access to contraceptives, such as making birth control pills available over the counter.

“If everyone knew everything would be fine and [I would be covered], then I wouldn’t be concerned with needing a plan [for contraceptives] for the next three to 10 years of life because my birth control might not be available or affordable,” Williams said. 

Contraceptives such as intrauterine devices, birth control pills and patches currently require a doctor’s prescription. Over-the-counter birth control is long overdue because of its practicality, Williams said.

“You can get aspirin and Tylenol, and if you take enough Tylenol it will kill you, but it’s still available over the counter,” Williams said. “Our country’s law and otherinvolvements—special interest groups and the like—have worked to successfully keep effective birth control off the shelf.” 

Williams said her peers and practitioners are worried about the future of women’s health. So are many other women who are stocking up on birth control as a precautionary measure. Williams noted a 20 percent increase in demand for IUDs since President Trump took office.

Louis Silverstein, a professor in the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department who teaches about sex in society, said control of women’s reproductive rights dates back to the Crusades when men went to war and forced their wives to wear chastity belts.

“A long-standing perspective on women [is that] their bodies are vibrating with sensuality,” Silverstein said. “Unless they were controlled in some way, they’d have sex all over the place,” Silverstein said. 

Silverstein cited Gloria Steinem’s famous quote, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament,” which he considers applicable to birth control.

“If men had to deal with the consequences of pregnancy, there’d be no issue,” Silverstein said. “Birth control would be all over the place—available at a very low cost or free.”

Contraceptive options for men, such as increased doses of testosterone, have been tested but studies have been halted because of side effects such as insomnia and depression, said Nelson Bennett, associate professor of urology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University

This means that men will continue to have fewer birth control options than women, Bennett added.

“Ideally, a man and a woman should feel equally invested in preventing unplanned pregnancy,” Bennett said. “Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Women are much more motivated to use contraception because [the] consequences of pregnancy are much higher for them.”

By contrast, male birth control has an uncertain future because there is no market for it, Williams said. Like most other mammals, she said, males have a physiological need to spread their DNA to as many partners as possible, in line with the Darwinian theories for survival and evolution.

“Why would a man voluntarily choose to limit his fertile potential as [opposed] to women?” Williams said.

Equality in birth control will require a change in both viewpoints and laws, Silverstein said. Men are resistant to change, but progress cannot be made until people become more enlightened and openminded.

“We all know that we’re in a particularly male, chauvinistic, anti-women-domination cultural perspective in relation to who’s in control at the national level and also at state,” Silverstein said.