One would hope that within today’s secondary education information about birth control, and what it can be used for, would be an integral part of science class, or sex ed. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, however, sex ed in the UK can be woefully inadequate, depending on where you end up going to school.
It seems that the “debate” as to whether birth control constitutes health care is ever ongoing, particularly in the US, where there are constant arguments about who should provide it, and at what cost. This was brought back onto my radar this week by the re-emergence on my timeline of a tweet from alt-pop singer Halsey.
It reminded me that birth control is used by millions of women worldwide for reasons other than contraception (although that should be reason enough on it’s own for providing it).
The condition that Halsey is referring to above is called endometriosis, a condition which effects 10% of women worldwide – that’s roughly 176 million women. Endometriosis causes tissue that is normally produced in the uterus to form outside of it as well, usually in or on the ovaries, bladder, and bowel, but it can occur elsewhere as well. The cause of the condition is unknown, and there is no definite cure. Furthermore, it can often take women many years to receive a diagnosis, as the condition is often consigned to period pain. Birth control is used to lessen the symptoms of endometriosis, and lessen the development of the tissue on organs (as so well described by Halsey above).
Other conditions that birth control is used to treat or aid are things such as anemia, acne, polycystic ovary syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, gynaecological infections, and can aid with perimenopause (transition into the menopause). As a hormone control, birth control can also help with symptoms such as mood swings, breast soreness, weight gain, bloating, and cramps. The argument that birth control is not healthcare, therefore, is plainly false.
Aside from the health conditions listed above, the use of contraceptives for their primary purpose to prevent pregnancy has, in developing countries, reduced the number of maternal deaths by over 40%, and it is estimated that 70% of maternal deaths could be prevented if the full demands for birth control were met. The predominant reason for this is that in reducing the number of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, this subsequently reduces the number of unsafe abortions or the continuation of high risk pregnancies. Unplanned pregnancies in teenagers are shown to result in higher cases of early birth, low birth weight, and infant mortality. In the US, where the debate about birth control rages on (earlier today a federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood), over 80% of pregnancies between the ages of 15-19 were unplanned. Linked to it’s ongoing debate about maternal healthcare and healthcare providers, the US is currently ranked 57th in the world for infant mortality, with an average of 5.8 infant deaths per 1000. This is a higher infant death rate than Bosnia and Herzegovina, Taiwan, San Marino, Canada, Slovenia, Belarus, Israel, Italy, South Korea, and Iceland, to name but a few.
It should be clear to anyone who has done a little reading that birth control, or hormonal control, is most definitely health care, and should be available on demand. Whether you choose to take it or not should be, as the beginning of this sentence suggests, your choice. If you don’t want to take an oral pill, or other types of hormonal birth control, there are several other options listed here. Whether or not these are accessed by women worldwide should be a matter of their own choosing, to help with their unique health care issues.