Stop Pretending Women Can’t Point Out Birth Control’s Negative Effects

Stop Pretending Women Can’t Point Out Birth Control’s Negative Effects

Pop culture tells women their empowerment and freedom comes from unlimited access to birth control and abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Emily Ostertag
By

Since Donald Trump was elected president, the internet has erupted with frenzied panic over women’s issues—especially birth control and abortion. This past week, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy sponsored a #ThxBirthControl campaign. And thanks to promotion from groups like Planned Parenthood, the hashtag has been one of the most highly trending topics on Twitter and Facebook.

The unwarranted frenzy over the belief that Trump will take away birth control indicates how attached to birth control my generation is. Many #ThxBirthControl tweets fail to engage some important realities about birth control, abortion, and women.

As a millennial woman living in New York City, I disagree with this all-too-common contention. Birth control does not guarantee my freedom—I already have the freedom to make empowering choices. I work in publicity for a major record label, and a career in the music industry was something I always wanted. I have generations of feminists (not birth control) to thank for the fact that I have been able to pursue my dreams.

Pop Culture Mantras about Birth Control Are Wrong

So even though Donald Trump’s sexism is deeply troubling to me, I have enough faith in the work done by and for women in this country to believe his presidency will not undo it. What worries me more than Donald Trump? The messages my peers and I are bombarded with in my daily life, dictating what all forward-thinking young women should believe.

In almost every conversation I have with friends or colleagues about our shared despair over Trump’s sexist antics, it is assumed that I also dislike his (claimed) opposition to abortion and contraception. Because I am a woman and not “sexist like Trump,” I must agree that free contraception and abortion rights are necessary for women.

But I’ve seen firsthand how this approach to abortion and contraception is not the right one. And I find it unfortunate that so many women of my generation refuse to look beneath the surface of the easy-to-digest platitudes proffered by the #ThxBirthControl campaign.

Birth control came onto the market in the 1960s, followed by the passage of the Title X program providing contraception handouts in 1970, and the legalization of abortion in 1973. Since then, rates of non-marital pregnancy have increased dramatically. While abortion rates have fallen in recent years, they have never fallen to the levels they were at before these programs existed. So tweets like this don’t tell the whole story:

The reason is a phenomenon known as “risk compensation.” #ThxBirthControl ignores the negative impact birth control has on non-marital relationships, and therefore on society as a whole. Because men and women perceive less risk to casual sex—because contraception and abortion are seen as fail-proof methods, often available for free—a drastic increase in non-marital sex results. Not only is the sex non-marital and uncommitted, it’s often between people who don’t even like each other:

How Birth Control Enables a Culture That Hurts Women

With no social pressure against premarital sex, casual and non-committal sex is expected of women. This puts them at greater risk for pregnancy and STDs, as well as emotional damage. Easy access to contraception and abortion have enabled a culture in which non-marital pregnancy rates have actually increased, not decreased. At the same time, a stigma against women who become accidentally pregnant results from the belief that their “problem” could have been easily avoided by cheap, easy birth control or abortion.

I see this phenomenon play out among my peers daily. Most single women my age take it for granted that being sexually active and on birth control must be part of their lives—and that if it were not, they could not live their lives as fully or freely. But if one of them were to become pregnant, she would have to bear an overwhelming burden. Unfair expectations are not just a problem for single women, either; I know newly married women who take their wedding rings off before job interviews, in case whoever is hiring does not want a soon-to-be-mom on the payroll.

It pains me that we, as a society, have not acknowledged that this social expectation for women to “deal with” their pregnancies is unjust. We, as a nation, still have a long way to go for women—and 140-character thank-you notes to birth control are not going to get us there. It is time to take a good look at where the women’s rights movement is headed, and think hard about whether that is actually where we want to go.

Emily Ostertag works in the music industry in New York City and writes as a member of Women Speak for Themselves.

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