Legal and accessible birth control has been a perennial topic of debate between the feminist movement and its opponents. Reproductive health access is often treated as a binary — you either can access it, or you can’t. In reality, each woman’s experience navigating an insurance and medical system that demonstrates anywhere from casual disregard to active hatred of women falls along a dramatic spectrum. In some cases, access is circumstantial, stressful, or unduly expensive. Yet, this variation in birth control accessibility is ignored in most discussions of women’s reproductive rights.
I have experienced the effects of this system myself. Every month when I go to the CVS in Princeton to pick up my birth control, I face obstacles I never experience when picking up antibiotics. I have had to return to the pharmacy upwards of six times over the course of a week, call multiple pharmacies across the country, and negotiate with my OB-GYN about getting my prescription filled and sent to the right location.
Twice this year alone, I have had my brand of birth control pill be “back-ordered for a year” or even switched from brand names to different generic pills. I received no information from the pharmacist about how to safely switch, even though some doctors warn that switching birth control pills can have adverse side effects due to the different ways women metabolize drugs. Even basic suggestions, such as taking the full placebo week before switching brands, are often left out by rushed pharmacists. Birth control pills have long-term effects on the hormones in a woman’s body, which suggests that services should be more aware and considerate of women trying to fill their prescriptions every month.
In his Senate confirmation interview, Brett Kavanaugh, the current nominee for the Supreme Court, referred to the birth control pill as an “abortion-inducing drug.” In context, this phrase suggests that he believes mandating birth control coverage in health insurance plans infringes on religious freedom. Kavanaugh would likely support arguments that restrict birth control access if he sits on the Supreme Court bench.
This political climate has instilled the fear in many women that they will no longer be able to reliably access birth control. Already, however, there is an unacknowledged spectrum of access to the pill that leaves many women battling to obtain a prescription every month. After a woman was denied miscarriage medication at a Walgreens, it was revealed that some states allow pharmacists to deny prescriptions over moral or religious concerns. In more rural areas where there is potentially only one locally-owned pharmacy, accessing birth control can be fraught with the fear of social judgment or denial. The stigma associated with birth control, which sometimes is associated with “slutty” behavior, leads some young women to go to great lengths to secretly obtain a prescription.
These various layers of judgment, financial burden, and legislative roadblock point to a subtle war waged against contraceptive access that goes beyond a blanket denial of the pill. Many women lose time, money, and mental or physical energy trying to get a contraceptive that has been entirely legal for decades. The burden placed on women across the country when they attempt to control their reproductive lives is reprehensible, and we must face the reality that all women are fighting daily — not for a gun, not even for an abortion, but for a tiny, legal pill.
Madeleine Marr is a sophomore from Newtown Square, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.