My right to (sexual and reproductive) health.

(Every time I log into Facebook, one of my friends has posted something infuriating. I need my blood pressure down, and I need to not engage in pointless flame wars. So I'm going to say quite a bit here, both today and probably later)

A few weeks ago, a blog post on the right to decide when and how to start a family caught my eye. This is something my husband and I are pretty serious about. Between two doctoral programs, the assortment of jobs we juggle between the two of us (I think we might be down to just two jobs each now. Maybe), and a newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder, now is not the time to get pregnant. (When you have a whacked-out immune system that likes to attack your own tissues, there's a definite possibility it will recognize a fetus as foreign and just try to get rid of it). If you walked through our house, you'd find my pack of birth control pills in the kitchen, condoms in the nightstand by our bed, and emergency contraception in a drawer in the bathroom. I'm grateful to be at a university that takes family planning seriously and is top-rated when it comes to providing sexual and reproductive health services to students. Each month when I refill my birth control prescription, I'm handed a $15 clinic pack, and this makes our lives a lot easier.

But that $15 prescription does a lot more than make sure a pregnancy doesn't happen before it's time. While my periods started out light and irregular, sometime in my early 20s things changed. Thanks to my handy Diva cup (which was the only feminine product that could stand up to my heavy periods) I know that between the first two days of my period, I generally lost around 120 mls of blood. Your period is considered normal if you lose between 10 and 80mls during the ENTIRE time. This meant that I essentially lost a week of my life each month to menstrual exhaustion, for lack of a better term. I was hesitant to go on the pill because of concerns about artificial hormones...two months later, I was shocked at what a difference it made in terms of my quality of life. I'm trying not to waste time kicking myself for not going on the pill years earlier. Oh, and bonus: my birth control also includes iron, something I tend to be low on, thanks to being a vegetarian and having Crohn's. You want me to give up these pills? You'll have pry them  from my cold, dead fingers.

When it's time to make healthcare decisions, the conversations that matter are between me, my husband, and  my doctor  (Except when it's about Crohn's. Then we have to factor in my lousy prescription coverage, which is another post in itself). This right has been under attack at both the state and national levels lately. My state senate is still considering a bill that would allow healthcare providers to deny any services for any reason they feel like it. Yes, as this bill is written, your phlebotomist could say "I don't like to draw blood on Monday, it ruins my week. Go somewhere else." Nationally, there's this uproar about the contraceptive mandate, and what it means for those poor little hospitals and universities, which receive millions of dollars in federal funding.  Usually, this is tied up with angst about emergency contraception (for a good overview, go here). Which I don't understand AT ALL. We have no data estimating how often fertilized eggs fail to implant, and really, if people are so concerned about emergency contraception, are they going to start trying to prosecute women with short luteal phases? Because that's what would seem consistent to me. Catholic universities have a history of making decisions that do not have the best interests of female faculty and students at heart (If a student has to have her ovary removed because you obstructed her access to birth control, you have failed her. To put it lightly.)
Respecting religious freedom is when you allow women to work out their convictions with their doctors and partners and choose medical care which fits their beliefs. It's unethical for a hospital or university to refuse to allow a student or employee to act in accordance with his or her individual conscience. It's been clearly outlined that institutions will not have to pay for services they object to . Now shut up. It's time to quit endangering women's health (and lives) to make a point.


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