The war against women in Washington raged on this week, and at the center of the debate was birth control. I'm sure that, by now, you've all heard the sound clip of Rush Limbaugh calling a Georgetown law student a slut and the backlash that ensued. But let's back up for a second, because I need to address this question that's been bothering me throughout this debate: Since when did birth control become just about sex?
Yes, a majority of American women do use birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. I haven't forgotten the days of waiting in line at my college's clinic for that $10-a-month pack of little yellow pills. (Call me a slut if you'd like, but I was only "dating" the man I ended up marrying. Turns out, I could have saved a ton of money on these pills if I'd have known I was infertile.)
After college and marriage, birth control pills took on a different meaning for me. When my sister-in-law was diagnosed with cervical cancer a couple of years ago, birth control was no longer optional for her. It was part of a drug regimen necessary to keep doctors from having to give her a hysterectomy at the ripe young age of 28.
Then it became necessary for me, too. We still don't know exactly what causes my left ovary to produce cysts. What we do know is that it's a combination of birth control and medication to lower my prolactin that keeps the cysts at bay. I'm on a hiatus from the pills for six months while my RE experiments with my hormone levels, but a typical month of medication costs me $60: $30 for my Dostinex and another $30 for my birth control. I am very lucky to be able to afford this. I am also very lucky that my company allows the coverage of both of these medications.
What would happen if I couldn't afford the birth control pills, or if my employer did not cover them (making me unable to afford them at full cost)?
Eventually, in the next six months, my cysts would most likely return. I would be in constant pain. I would not be allowed to do things that normal, healthy people consider everyday activities: lift boxes or books at work, walk briskly (or participate in any more strenuous exercise). Even sex would be off limits, should a cyst grow big enough to potentially rupture. If a cyst ruptured, I could bleed internally to the point of infection, putting me in the hospital for days - a visit I wouldn't be able to afford. I could require surgery, and a third surgery equals the loss of my left ovary - which, in turn, equals four to six weeks of recovery time.
For me, birth control is preventive care, but it's not preventing pregnancy. It's preventing a situation that would cost my insurance company, (potentially) the government, and me more money should my employer's insurance not cover the costs.
This is part of the point that Sandra Fluke tried to make in her testimony. Instead, the only point heard was the one about SEX. Casting aside the ridiculous notion that college-aged women can't have sex (and yet college-aged men are revered for how many women they take back to their dorm rooms), the women whose reproductive organs are riddled with cancer, endometriosis, cysts, and even the women who are using birth control to help them conceive (see: IVF patients) are somehow lost in the media hype and the controversy of one commentator.
I don't believe for a second that Limbaugh thinks Ms. Fluke is a slut. So why did he say it? For shock value. Limbaugh is getting exactly what he wanted out of this situation. Instead of people focusing their attention on the debate at hand, they are focusing on his crude remarks. Yes, what he said was wrong. Beyond wrong, and he is a coward for saying such an awful thing. But he'll never take responsibility for his actions. Maybe he'll apologize, maybe not. At this point, who would believe him? I'm even willing to bet that he doesn't care about losing advertisers for his programming because of it. To focus this on Limbaugh is to play right into his hands.
The best thing we as women can do to respond is keep moving forward. We keep fighting for the rights that we deserve, whether it's the right to use birth control to prevent pregnancy or to prevent a serious disease. We keep speaking up so that our country's leaders can hear our voices. We let them know that this is important and why it's important. We do exactly what Sandra Fluke is doing now: we stand up and we don't back down.