Today is International Women’s Day. It’s nice to know we deserve a day, but there are so many women’s issues that are still yet to be resolved that it boggles the mind. When casting about to find a topic for this blog post, I was quickly overwhelmed. I could have easily written about gender bias, sexism, domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, female genital mutilation, and that’s just scratching the surface. (Heck, I could give you chapter and verse on mansplaining. A coworker once tried to explain to me how to flush a toilet. The email was 3 pages long.) But at a time when reproductive rights are being attacked at every angle, I felt that this particular topic was appropriate. I hope you agree.
From 1992 to 1998, I worked at a county public health department in an inner city in Florida. To be clear, I did not work in the clinic. I have no medical training. I was in administration, so I was more focused on policies and procedures. I interacted with all the departments, and based on my observations, the medical staff had the best interests of the patients at heart. Unfortunately, they were forced to make some questionable choices due to budget restrictions and the political environment in which they were forced to operate.
They gave out condoms for free, and that was admirable, but they went for the least expensive condoms they could find, and they had the highest failure rate. I suspect that many of the people who helped themselves to these condoms might not have had as much confidence in them had they known. It could be argued that a substandard condom is better than no condom at all, but I believe that giving people the opportunity to make informed choices is even more important than that.
Birth control was one of the primary functions of that clinic, as it should be. Every woman should have access to all the information and services she needs to maintain her health in general, and her reproductive health specifically. She should be able to decide how many children she wishes to have, if any, and how she’d like those children to be spaced in age based on her own individual circumstances.
I know that during the 90’s, many women walked out the door of that clinic having chosen Norplant as their primary source of birth control. Implantable contraceptives such as this are 99 percent effective, and they can last up to 5 years. The only birth control method that comes close to that level of effectiveness is the IUD.
During my long commute to work the other day, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard a word about Norplant in a long, long time. Granted, I’m no longer connected to the health industry in any way, but surely I’d still have heard something about Norplant, if only in passing. So out of curiosity, I decided to do some research on the subject.
I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening up for myself. (Why, oh why do I always say to myself, “This should be an easy topic to blog about,” only to discover that there’s so much more to it that it requires days of research? Once I figure that out, though, I’m already hooked on telling you everything I’ve learned. Anyway…)
First of all, I should explain that Norplant is a Levonorgestrel-releasing implant that came in tiny little rods that were inserted under the skin of your upper arm. They were extremely low maintenance, highly effective, and easily reversible. They were also easily concealed, so the choice to use this method rested squarely with the woman. (As it should, in my opinion, because she is the one whose body and life are most impacted by pregnancy.)
Needless to say, there are certain elements of society that would rather not see women having that much power and control over their own lives. So much so, that even though contraceptive implants are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, Planned Parenthood, the World Health Organization, and weirdly enough, the American Civil Liberties Union, you can no longer get Norplant and its new and improved version, Jadelle, in the United States. Fortunately, you can still get an etonogestrel implant called Nexplanon which is equally effective. That is, as long as we Americans are still allowed to have access to it. And with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we are all reminded that nothing is guaranteed.
The first website I encountered during my research was rather hair raising in its bias. It was from a crackpot organization called the Population Research Institute. After looking into this organization, I came to the same conclusion that Wikipedia does, and since they put it so succinctly, I’ll quote them directly:
“The Population Research Institute (PRI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Front Royal, Virginia, US. The organization opposes abortion. They believe that overpopulation is a myth, and oppose hormonal birth control in females and vasectomies in males. In addition, the organization issues opinion pieces questioning the veracity of human driven climate change and the natural origin of COVID-19.”
Even without the Wikipedia assist, PRI’s ridiculously extreme and hysterical article on Norplant made it obvious to me that it shouldn’t be taken it seriously. It claimed that this creepy organization had “driven a stake through the heart of Norplant,” and that “population controllers have long dreamed of chemically sterilizing women for extended periods of time”. They go on to say that this contraceptive was so harmful that it could cause you to go blind or be bedridden for months on end, and that when women asked to have these implants removed, the “population control officials” flatly refused to allow it.
Yes, some women suffered side effects, as some people do when taking any medication. (Check out another factually warped article by Human Life International, with its laser focus on the remote chances of side effects. It’s like reading the script of a badly written horror film.)
But I think it was PRI’s media campaign that encouraged women to engage in class action lawsuits, and even though Wyeth, the company which produced Norplant, never lost a single one of these lawsuits, after a time they chafed at the expense of these legal proceedings and started settling out of court with 32,000 women.
That blew the side effects thing way out of proportion, causing a media frenzy which scared a lot of people, and the upshot is Norplant/Jadelle are still approved by the FDA, but they’re no longer sold in the United States. They’re still available in more than 60 countries and they are used by 7 million women worldwide.
The Population Research Institute would have you believe that those 7 million women were merely “easy targets” that “lacked the means to fight back legally.” And just in case you aren’t buying that argument, they also say that it causes women to conceive children which are then aborted after the egg “fails to implant in the uterus.” In essence, they believe that life begins at the zygote stage.
A zygote is a cell. The skin you are shedding even as you read this are cells, too. Does that mean that any time we scratch an itch, we are committing murder? Should we hold funerals for every skin-derived dust bunny under the bed? If so, I’ll be busy for years. There’s no nervous system or brain in a zygote. It’s not sentient or viable. It’s about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
Anyway, it was awfully nice of PRI to close off yet another avenue of family planning for American women. Talk about population control! This organization, if given the opportunity, would force you to have children whether you like it or not.
Fortunately, it appears that most American women aren’t buying what these crackpots are selling. Check out this report by the Guttmacher Institute if you are curious about the statistics regarding contraceptive use in the US. Given its efficacy, though, I wish the percentage of women who chose implants when seeking birth control were higher.
Sadly, not only do you have extremists who would like to eliminate all forms of birth control on one end of the reproductive rights continuum, but on the opposite end, you’ve got the equally scary people who would like to exert control over women by forcing them to have implants as a punitive gesture. Women’s rights, under these circumstances, might be considered moderate middle ground.
According to the ACLU, Norplant is one of the many types of “contraception that enhances the reproductive freedom of women and men,” but they go on to say that it can also be “a vehicle for infringing on the reproductive autonomy of women.” Not good.
It seems that many judges and legislators attempted to mandate Norplant’s use by some women or groups. Some states wanted to give women convicted of child abuse or drug use during pregnancy a choice between Norplant and jail. (Let me state the obvious: Women on Norplant can still abuse children and use drugs.) Other states wanted to give incentives to women on welfare if they agreed to use Norplant. Still others wanted to require women who received public assistance to either use Norplant or lose their benefits. For a time it was quite popular to offer inmates reduced sentences if they got an implant.
I don’t want the government to decide anything about my childbearing capacity or decisions. It smacks of eugenics. I want all the available information on all the available birth control methods so that I can decide what to do with my own body. Men are never forced to medically acquiesce to politicians. Male child abusers are not forced to have vasectomies. Men’s public assistance is not contingent upon his birth control or lack thereof.
This article by the Guttmacher Institute reminds us that every woman’s birth control choice should be fully informed and completely voluntary. That is a fundamental right that should.be accorded to every human being. Even though our rights are constantly being infringed upon, it’s still shocking to me to contemplate that so many people would deprive us of these rights.
The article goes on to describe the horrific history of sterilization abuse in this country, which is against the law now, but has still taken place as recently as 2013. Then it goes into further detail about the many controversial Norplant proposals. Then it reviews the many ways that countries the world over have attempted to control a woman’s reproductive choices by either prohibiting pregnancy because of overpopulation, or prohibiting birth control out of a desire for more workers, soldiers or patriots, or to comply with certain religious beliefs.
The bottom line is that we women are caught in the middle between groups who want us to reproduce whether we like it or not and groups who want to deprive us of the right to reproduce even if we want to. It’s all about control. It’s all about power.
A worldwide commitment to reproductive rights is the only way women can control their lives and futures. Toward that end, please support the Center for Reproductive Rights. The statistics below, which can be found on their website, make it perfectly clear that for many of us, these issues are a matter of quality of life, and, unfortunately, the potential for death. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to make those types of choices on my own.
- 74 million women living in low and middle-income countries have unintended pregnancies annually.
- Every year, 215,000 pregnancy related deaths are prevented by modern contraceptives.
- The rate of maternal mortality in the US is 24 women per every 100,000. That’s more than three times the rate of most other high-income countries.
Make the choice to read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5
7 thoughts on “Contraceptive Implants and Reproductive Rights”
Anyone who — in any way, in thought or deed — forces pregnancy upon a woman whether individually or as a member of a group, religious or otherwise, is a rapist. Period.
There really should be Conspiracy to Rape laws on the books. That would scare the bejeezus out of certain people.
Wow! We get a whole day. Not a whole month, as other cultures are given. Is it because females, as a group, aren’t considered a culture with a shared history, traditions, symbols, language, values, and artifacts? Wait, we do have those things, but are not represented, seriously, as a culture. Still not represented constitutionally. If viewed as a culture, the abuses done over the centuries, by those not of our culture, would be decried as inhumane acts of hate. Anytime you control and deny another’s basic humans rights, based on culture, it’s a hate crime. Doesn’t matter how you package or minimize it’s intent… it’s an act of hate. If females come together to celebrate, honor, enlighten and support our culture, everyday for a year, could we gain the collective strength to overcome these continuing hate crimes against us? I’ve been a victim of a male controlled legal system that took my reproductive right to a tubal ligation (birth control pills weren’t a safe option then and a doctor recommended the surgery) and gave it to my husband. That control over my womb, set the course of my life in a direction I didn’t want. The humiliation of asking permission to control my own health and reproductive future was hard, but his denial was devastating. Divorcing couldn’t undo the damage done to my life. We just can’t go backwards and risk a ‘Handmaids Tale’ dystopia. Let’s make it an International Women’s Year.
I’m for that! Some horror stories in reverse: I know two women who wanted to get their tubes tied after having two children each. They felt that they were in stable marriages and that their family size was just right. Their husbands “signed off” on it, and the procedures were done. Both men failed to mention that they both planned to divorce these women within the month. Both women say that had they known, they might not have gone through with the procedure, because they might wish to remarry and have the option to have a child with the far superior men they wound up with. Not exactly a little white lie. 😦
And have you heard of the Red Tent Movement? I blogged about this years ago. This would be a great framework on which to build your idea. https://theviewfromadrawbridge.com/2013/04/10/reveling-in-the-red-tent/
Red tent gatherings remind me of my old covens gatherings without the tents. We preferred dancing under the full moon… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__J5kKKbnc8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP2tKLNg2ak …just me and the gals merging our powers. 🙂Ha! With my introversion I could only be comfortable in a coven of 1. A solitary witch. This doesn’t mean I can’t stand in solidarity with my oppressed sisters. I did do a retreat in the mountains, hosted by nuns, and meditated while walking their stone, spiral labyrinth. It was peaceful and the nuns encouraged us to celebrate our feminine powers.
That sounds like a lovely experience.