Women’s Reproductive Rights
Many people think that they are distanced from the issue of women’s reproductive rights and thus find no interest in the issues prevalent in our society today. However, it is much closer to you then you might think: Imagine you are sitting in a room with 100 women you know, family members, friends, etc.. Statistically speaking, 98 of those women have used birth control sometime in their life, and 62 of them are currently on birth control. If 50 of those women had been pregnant sometime in their lifetime, about 10 of them would have their child aborted. About 12 of the women around you have or previously had breast cancer and are in need constant breast exams and checkups. Finally, about 20 of these women are uninsured and are unable to pay their hospital bills (“Contraceptive Use in the United States”). Look around the room: almost every women around you currently is or has utilized reproductive services services in their lifetime. It is easy to overlook these women if you have not or don’t think you will ever need the services that Planned Parenthood and other major family planing clinics offer, but with these statistics, it’s hard to overlook the fact that reproductive rights matter to many people in the United States.
Now, many of you may be asking; what exactly are reproductive rights? A major part of reproductive rights is the concept of family planning.
According to the Children’s Bureau, family planning is the “educational, comprehensive medical or social activities which enable individuals, including minors, to determine freely the number and spacing of their children and to select the means by which this may be achieved.”(“National Abuse and Neglect Data System Glossary”).
It is simply the ability for one to plan their lives when it comes to having children. This can come in the form of different, birth control methods, the use of contraceptives, abortion, and much more. However, reproductive services are not limited to only family planning. They include breast exams, STI testing, sex education, and treatment for any reproductive infections.
Why I Care
As Women’s activist Margaret Sanger once said, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body”(“Margaret Sanger Quotes”). I completely agree with this idea, which is why I have decided to tackle this issue head on. I have been interested in women’s reproductive rights ever since Donald Trump got elected in November of 2016. During his campaign, Trump was openly against abortions, and his vice president Mike Pence had fought in congress to defund Planned Parenthood (Warnke). Up until that point, I had thought of family planning as something that was always accessible, and I had never really realized the extreme controversy surrounding it. I attended the Women’s March in San Francisco that January, and I noticed that a large chunk of the signs that the marchers were holding up had to do with reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood. A popular chant was “my body, my choice”.
This got me wondering more about the issue at hand, as I didn’t know much about the specifics of Trump’s plans regarding reproductive rights and I wanted to learn more. I did a research paper called the I-Search last spring about the effect on the United States if Planned Parenthood were to be defunded, and I learned a lot about the importance of the organization through that research. I wanted to continue this topic because I am very passionate about it and thought that it would be super interesting to study the history about this issue in order to craft possible solutions.
The heart of the reproductive rights movement began in the early 1900’s, and it started solely as a movement fighting for the right to be able to use birth control (Badore). Through the Comstock Act of 1873, the distribution and possession of medicines for birth control or abortions became illegal (“Comstock Act”). By the 1900s, working-class women who couldn’t afford to have children and wanted to be able to use different birth control methods decided to take a stand. One of these women was named Margaret Sanger, who would later become one of the most famous reproductive rights activists in United States history. Throughout her lifetime, she achieved many advancements for women all around the country who felt like the needed a better chance to control their lives. She opened up the first birth control clinic in Brownsville, New York, which helped over 450 women get access to contraceptives before the police shut it down and arrested Sanger for violating the Comstock Act. Despite the arrest, she reopened the clinic soon after in 1916 and was re-arrested (“Sanger on Trial: The Brownsville Clinic Testimony”). During her trial, over 50 women showed up in support of Sanger, which was one of the first signs of a collective movement.
She then founded the American Birth Control League, now known as Planned Parenthood, which was crucial in allowing women access to contraceptives. Sanger also started a magazine, titled the Women Rebel, which talked openly about issues women faced without being able to use birth control (Baker). Through her efforts, birth control no longer carried such a negative connotation to many people; society began to realize that contraception allowed many health benefits and allowed more opportunities for women to plan their lives (Badore). Views were changed and the movement continued to gain a lot of support. Advancements continued that led up to one of the largest court cases in the history of the women’s reproductive rights movement; the Roe v Wade decision. This 1973 case ruled that abortions should be legal for any women in the US (“Reproductive Rights Historical Highlights”). This completely changed the face of the movement both positively and negatively, as a lot more controversy sparked around reproductive rights. Many more advancements followed, but so did many setbacks. These setbacks include court cases like Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v.Casey(1992), which upheld a series of requirements for abortion patients, such as anti-abortion counseling, parental consent, etc. (“Reproductive Rights Historical Highlights”). Now, abortions are more regulated than guns in the US:
Current Day Problems
There are many different problems that women’s reproductive rights face today. One major one is that the current presidential administration has succeeded in “defunding” Planned Parenthood (and other organizations that offer abortions), meaning that he is allowing states to chose whether or not to fund the organization (Adamczyk). Without funding, the Planned Parenthood can no longer allow patients on Medicaid health care programs to get free care at their clinics. This means that low income women and men who need reproductive services now have to look elsewhere, which is extremely problematic considering that Planned Parenthood is often the only family planning clinic available in many parts of the United States. Many women who are on medicaid need these services (as shown below) and are no longer given the right to obtain them.
This is a brief video that explains a little more about the bill:
Now, the question that many people are asking is why the government would want to take away such a great program that helps so many men and women nationwide. Well, that leads to the second major problem, which is that there is an extreme stigma around abortions. This stigma is often connected to Planned Parenthood because of the common misconception that it is mainly an abortion clinic. Abortion stigma is defined as “…a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable” (“Basic Concepts”). This is what we saw in the video above: even though Trump had previously praised Planned Parenthood for it’s other family planning services, he still wanted to defund it because of its affiliation with abortions. Abortion stigma is rooted in religious and moral values which are often hard to change. However, changing the ideas about Planned Parenthood is extremely important because abortion is an extremely small portion of what Planned Parenthood does, and in fact they work to try and decrease the number of abortions needed. The graphic below shows a great breakdown of Planned Parenthood and its services:
If people knew these breakdowns, their opinions might be very different about Planned Parenthood, and maybe Trump’s administration wouldn’t have been so quick to defund it. Additionally, many people are striving to make abortion illegal all together. However, countries that have made abortion illegal in the past have really suffered the consequences, as more women seek unsafe abortions or end up in poverty:
Finally, the last major setback that the movement is facing is the lack of accessible care for women in America. Especially after the “defunding”, so many women have to travel for miles just to go to a family planning clinic– some even have to travel to another state. One by one, states are eliminating their family planning clinics, and women have no where to turn.
When Texas defunded Planned Parenthood, the number of unintended pregnancies skyrocketed, and thus so did many negative health outcomes (“Cutting Family Planning in Texas”). 54% of Planned Parenthood’s health centers serve rural and medically underserved areas (Grimaldi), and 21% of the counties that have Planned Parenthood clinics have no other family planning services throughout the entire county (Gibson).
It is clear that there are many problems that women’s reproductive rights are facing in today’s society. They can’t all be fixed in the blink of an eye, but there are definitely things we can do to help change the future of these issues:
- I think that an important step when solving this issue would be to create a better education system in schools to teach kids about reproductive health in order to eliminate the unnecessary stigma associated with family planning. The reason I thought of this was because I think that if many people realized that Planned Parenthood actually works to prevent unwanted pregnancies and tries to decrease the number of abortions given, they would have a different opinion about the organization to begin with and this problem might not be so prevalent today. A number of people are so quick to dismiss family planning due to its connection with abortion despite its importance in helping women prevent abortion. However, in order for this solution to be effective, it would have to be very carefully implemented. I don’t think that the solution should be based around instilling progressive views into peoples heads about abortion, but more about simply showing what the organization does that helps save millions of lives each year. I think it’s important to also address the problem of sexism in order to solve this issue, and this can also be addressed through education starting at a young age.
- We also need to work to try eliminate the bill that allows states to “defund” Planned Parenthood. The problem with this bill is that it simply excludes low income patients from getting their care at Planned Parenthood, which is often the only family planning option in many states. Without this bill, millions of more Americans would have access to great care options that could even save their lives. If a large number of people would organize marches and protests, as well as advertise the issue in the media, than the problem would maybe get solved. Once upon a time, Margaret Sanger did the same thing with the Comstock acts, and it worked. Repeating her actions could really help change the problems in America.
These are two major solutions, but there are many smaller things we can that can change a lot.
How Can YOU Get Involved?
- Protest! There are many protests and marches held each year fighting for reproductive rights. Join one near you and scream loud!
- Educate the people around you! Discuss these issues with friends and family to help spread theword about the problems women are facing today in order to eliminate all of the misconceptions.
- Donate to support your local Planned Parenthood! One donation can go really far
- Vote! It is important that you voice is heard, especially when it comes to issues like these. There are bills each year that are trying to change reproductive rights, some positively and some negatively. Vote on them!