Birth control is the reason I even have a child. If the state of Texas follows up on its abortion ban with an assault on contraception, it will negatively impact the health and fertility of many people.
After a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked showing the court was ready to completely revoke federal abortion protections, Texans began preparing for the worst. If Roe v. Wade is knocked down, within 30 days a “trigger law” in the state will ban all abortions except for medical necessity, and will make it a crime to commit one. Republican-controlled states such as Louisiana and Tennessee have indicated that they will address bans on certain forms of contraception next. Some experts believe it’s only a matter of time before Texas follows suit, though Governor Greg Abbott is hesitant about trying to take that step.
It’s time to remember that birth control isn’t just a way to prevent pregnancy. It is a medical necessity for millions of people.
My wife started having extremely painful periods as a teenager and at the turn of the century they became almost unbearable. The pain was so bad that her mother, then a nurse for nearly 50 years, thought it must be ovarian cancer. Fortunately, a doctor discovered that it was actually endometriosis, a disease of the reproductive system that causes uterine tissue to grow in places it shouldn’t. The disease affects up to 10 percent of Americans with wombs, and for various, mostly sexist reasons, can go undiagnosed for ten years.
My wife underwent the first of three laser surgeries to remove the tissue on her ovaries, which gave her almost instant relief. Her doctor told her there were three treatment options: she could have an oophorectomy, she could have a child (it sometimes “reboots” the system), or she could use hormonal birth control to slow the spread. Being young, unmarried and looking for a job, she chose contraception.
This was pre-Affordable Care Act, so she ran into a problem right away. Every time she started a new job, it was a roll of the dice to see if her birth control would be covered at all. Even if it did, her endometriosis would sometimes be classified as a pre-existing condition and specific brands that have been shown to help with the condition would not be covered. When the Great Recession hit, we often had to choose between birth control and rent. So the endometriosis crept back twice and required more surgeries in addition to the pain.
The constant assault from her own body and the fact that the ovaries don’t like lasers being shot at it have seriously affected her fertility. Once we were married, we would have taken five years and thousands of dollars in fertility treatments to conceive, something that may never have been necessary if she could have just stayed on regular birth control until we were ready for a child. Even her priest told her she had a “pass” on using birth control because it was to preserve her ability to give birth. When the Catholic Church is the voice of moderation on contraception, things have gone wrong.
She’s not alone either. More than a million Americans use birth control for reasons other than birth control. Susie McGowan, a tech writer at Tomball, first discovered something was wrong when she started bleeding profusely from the vagina while working at Walmart at age 18. Her mother took her to the doctor and gave her birth control, which slowed the flow and eased the painful cramps that came with it. Now she has an IUD that stops her period completely.
“The pill used to control my flow, and the days I would be out of work were limited to about four a month,” she says. “Without it, I could do nothing but sit or lie down without excruciating pain.”
Scarlett Fontenot, a shipping and receiving manager in Orange, has a similar story. As a teenager, she had to miss school because of severe pain when she started menstruating. The birth control her doctor put on her limited her periods to four times a year, but if she’s not insured, they can cost $300. It’s a tough choice if she wants to stay in service.
“Without the pill, I would probably lose my job,” she says. “Every time I had my period I missed my job. The pain would be unbearable. Birth control helps me live a normal life.”
One condition that birth control is essential to treat is polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS is one of the most common diseases of the female reproductive system, affecting as many as 5 million Americans. In addition to life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and stroke, it is one of the leading causes of infertility.
Irene Liner, a graduate student from Brookshire, has severe PCOS combined with a hormonal imbalance. It formed multiple massive cysts on her ovaries the size of baseballs. Birth control is the only thing that has brought her relief.
“While taking the pill isn’t my favorite activity in the world because of side effects, it makes things easier for me,” she says. “Without the pill, I often have pain because cysts are growing on my ovaries. With the birth control, I have manageable pain, predictable periods, slightly lighter flows, delayed cyst growth, and mild mood regulation.
There are thousands of people in Texas who need birth control for reasons other than birth control. If the state decides to restrict access, much of the population would suffer great pain and seriously affect their quality of life. Ironically, it would also stop many of them from getting pregnant when and if they want to.
Unfortunately, Texas has few resources available to help with this. It is one of only two states that does not cover hormonal contraception for minors under the CHIP program. Because it has denied the Medicaid extension, low-income adults cannot receive government funding to cover the cost of birth control. Inexpensive birth control is often available through organizations like Planned Parenthood, but decades of Republican-led attacks on it have left nearly half of people seeking birth control at Planned Parenthood in the state unable to get it.
That will leave many people in agony and destroy their reproductive systems if the state were to subsequently target access to contraception.