Saturday, 20 October 2012

A Personal Perspective on the New Emergency Contraceptive Pill

The Telegraph has a piece up at the moment discussing a new form of emergency contraception that can be taken up to five days after sex. I'm not going to link the article, partly because I don't like the Telegraph, but mostly because the tone of the piece is simply horrific. It's incredibly anti-woman and sees women who don't want to become pregnant as simply 'unwilling mothers'. I'm not linking to a piece that thinks that I'm simply a walking uterus waiting to be impregnated.

Much of the text is provided over at Forty Shades of Grey, and Nat Fantastic does an excellent job of covering the main problems with the piece, so I'm not going to recover any of that ground. What I want to do is provide some personal perspective as someone who has made use of the existing 72 hour form of emergency contraception.

I have used the emergency contraceptive pill a grand total of once in my life. I didn't use it as my only form of contraception, though I am certainly not condemning people who choose to do that. I want to use my personal story as a springboard for looking at why I think the availability of emergency contraception is an excellent idea in general, and why this new pill is a positive step forward.

I was in my first year at university, and in a relationship that was still relatively new. We had used a condom, but it had come off at some point during sex. My boyfriend and I thought that the condom had done its job, but didn't want to leave it up to chance. Neither of us were willing to wait until I either had my period or didn't to find out if we were right. So we made the decision to seek emergency contraception. The incident happened on a Sunday, so we knew we had to find somewhere that would give it over the counter. We checked our local pharmacies, but they either weren't open, didn't stock the pill or the pharmacist wasn't working that day. Fortunately we were pointed in the direction of a pharmacy that would be able to provide the pill.

Even though both my boyfriend and I were under 25 and we were both students and there are supposed to be various schemes for providing emergency contraception for free, we still had to pay full price. Still had to fill out forms and I still had to sit through a mini-consultation, which for the record was awkward as hell, before we could get what we were after. Even after taking the pill, and knowing that we'd obtained it well within the 72 hour period its effective, I was still utterly terrified I might still be pregnant. Things didn't get easier until after I got my period.

According to the excuse for a human being who wrote the article in the Telegraph I shouldn’t have had access to that contraception. I should have waited until the date of my next period to find out what had happened. And if I had been so unlucky as to get pregnant, I should have carried that pregnancy to term. No choice about what happens to my body.

What strikes me about the writer of this article, and pro-lifers in general, is that there's so much they don't care about. They make big noises about the sanctity of life and the rights of the foetus, but I don't hear any of that. I just hear a whole lot of "I don't give a shit".

What I hear is "I don't care about women's bodily autonomy; I don't care about their right to choose what happens to  their lives". Take my hypothetical pregnancy scenario. These people who believe in the foetus above all don't care about my education. They don't care what I had planned for my life. They don't care if I want kids at all, or if I'd just rather have them later. They don't care what kind of relationship I have with my boyfriend, whether it is stable enough to handle a pregnancy or a child; whether the relationship is intended to be serious and long term. They don't care if me and my partner are ready to be parents, or even want to be at all. They don't care whether or not we want children with each other, now or in the future. They don't care if we have the financial stability to support a child, or a support network of family of friends.

And while I know that they don't care about me, or what I want or what my rights are, I don't think pro-lifers actually care about the embryo/foetus/child either.

If they did, they would see that there are many many situations where it would not be good to bring a child into the world. If my relationship with my boyfriend were not stable, and I was not prepared to be a single mother, that would not be a good scenario to bring a child into. If we had no means of supporting a child, financially, emotionally, either ourselves or with the help of friends and family, that would not be a good scenario to bring a child into. It feels like pro-lifers never take this into consideration. The idea that a pregnancy should be carried to term no matter the life that the resulting child will be brought into says to me that these people are in fact pro-pregnancy, not necessarily pro-life. As a person who is in possession of both a life and a uterus, I find it extremely disturbing that there are people who think the rights of a tiny collection of cells or a proto-person should be held in higher regard than mine. Who is pro- my life?

And to those people who suggest giving a child up to adoption, you're no better. You aren't taking into consideration the approximately nine months between conception and birth that I would have to deal with against my will. In addition, it doesn't take into account the birth itself, which no matter which method of giving birth is used, is likely to be traumatic to a person who never wanted to be pregnant in the first place. To me, the issues of not wanting to be a parent and not wanting to be pregnant or give birth are separate but related.  Suggesting adoption as the solution not only erases that fact, but also erases the potential emotional trauma to the mother and potentially the child.

Emergency contraception is another tool that people, particularity women have at their disposal to prevent unwanted pregnancies and hence unwanted children. It is another tool which helps give women in particular more control over their bodies and their lives. Which I suspect is really the thing that scares pro-lifers.

The introduction of this new 5-day later pill is only a good thing as far as I'm concerned, and I wish it had been available when I used the 72 hour pill. If there had been nowhere in my area that sold the 72 hour pill over the counter, I would have had to wait until Monday morning to make a doctors appointment. This would already be nearly 24 hours after the condom failure; if they couldn’t fit me in Monday or Tuesday, then the 72 hour pill would have been of no use to me by the time I could take it. If the accident had occurred on Saturday, my time scale would have contracted still further.

The availability of the 72 hour emergency contraceptive is a useful fall back method, and the 5 day pill even more so. It gives you another fall-back to prevent pregnancy occurring before the question becomes one of carrying to term or having an abortion. The more tools at our disposal, the more empowered we are.

According to Twitter, the Daily Mail is calling the new pill the "promiscuity pill".  There is this idea that providing more contraceptive choices is going to make people more promiscuous. Aside from the assumption that promiscuity is inherently bad, in my experience that just isn't true. Some people will be promiscuous, some people won't. Offering more contraceptive choices simply allows both sets of people more control over their lives, whatever they choose to do with them.

There also seems to be this idea that in principle the emergency contraceptive pill is fine, but some people have a problem with it being used "incorrectly" i.e. as a primary form of contraception. I have several problems with people wanting to police how the emergency contraceptive pill is used. Firstly, it stems from the idea that we should be policing bodies, women's bodies in particular. To me this says "we'll give you this new way to control when you get pregnant, but you can only have it if you use it how we (usually men) want you to use it." That smacks of patriarchy and isn't empowering to women, nor is it a positive force in their lives. Secondly, while I am aware that emergency contraception is intended to be used in cases where primary contraception has failed or was unavailable, if people choose to use it as a primary contraceptive, that is their right. There are many reasons why what we other forms of contraception weren't used at the time sex occurred, some of which include rape and/or abuse. I fully believe that instead of judging people for using emergency contraception "incorrectly" we should be looking at the reasons why this is their chosen form of contraception. Is it a matter of education, or is there something else at work here? My final problem with this is what happens when I follow this line of thought to its conclusion. Do you know where I end up? At the notion that the majority should have their access to this form of healthcare withdrawn because a minority can’t be trusted to use it "properly". I have many problems with this idea, not least the idea that we shouldn't be trusting people with what happens to their own bodies.

I want to say a few things in conclusion. I think that people who own penises should butt out, or at the very least focus their attention more on the fact that a penis-owning person is usually also involved in the process of making pregnancies happen. I'm fed up of people without uteruses approaching this discussion from a hypothetical  moral viewpoint and ignoring the real lived experiences of people who have been directly affected by these issues. I'm fed up of penis owning people thinking that their opinion on this issue is somehow more important or more valid that the opinions or feelings of a person with a uterus. That needs to stop. I also think that we should be less concerned with some people using this form of contraception in a way that some other people think is incorrect; we should be far more concerned about what led them to using this contraception this way, and if there is action that can be taken to help those people, we should take it.

Finally, I believe that we should be providing healthcare such as the emergency contraceptive pill as widely as possible, and trusting people to make their own decisions about how they use it. And we should stop thinking that's such a radical notion.

Postscript: while I am aware that uterus-owning is not a club all women are in, nor is it a women only club, I am a woman with a uterus and can only speak from the perspective of a uterus-owning women. I don't mean to erase non-uterus owning women, nor uterus-owning men from this picture, but since I am neither I do not feel comfortable speaking about their experiences with regards to contraception. I have tried as best I can to not make the assumption that women and uterus-owning people are the same thing. If I messed up, please let me know and I'll correct it.

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