by Jessica Hille
You can’t watch TV without seeing a commercial for a pill of some kind. Some help you sleep. Some help you stay awake. Some make you stop sneezing. Some make you enjoy sitting in a bathtub in your back yard (apparently). Pills for men and women, like decongestants, and pills specifically for men, like the famous/infamous Little Blue Pill, are generally accepted without much controversy in our well-medicated society. Pills specifically for women, however, spark intense debate and inspire strict government regulation.
Consider the provisions in the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”) that require health insurers to cover all FDA-approved contraception, making it available in many cases without a copay. This long overdue policy should be a no-brainer. Instead, it’s being challenged in dozens of lawsuits across the country. The fact that access to contraception has been shown again and again to improve maternal and infant health and lower teen birth rates seems irrelevant to those who continue to view women primarily as wives and mothers. (Note: There is NOTHING wrong with being a wife and/or a mother. The problem comes in the requirement.)
Then there are the ongoing battles over providing over-the-counter access to Plan B. In 2011, the Obama administration announced that the Department of Health and Human Services would overrule the FDA’s recommendation to allow over-the-counter sales for Plan B without age restrictions. The Administration’s perplexing stance received the criticism it deserved. In April 2013, a federal judge ordered the FDA to make Plan B available over the counter without age restrictions, saying the restrictions are “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.” The Obama administration dropped their appeal of the decision just this week.
In Louisiana, the state legislature just passed a bill to ban what anti-choice extremists are calling “telemed” abortions, where doctors prescribe drugs used for medication abortions by video call. The restriction will make it much harder for women who live far from the state’s three cities with abortion clinics.
And now there’s the so-called “female Viagra,” a drug being developed to stimulate a woman’s sex drive. All these pills for women, dealing with sex and its consequences, evoke tremendous responses both in support and opposition. Some believe that contraception, particularly when combined with libido enhancers for women, will lead to promiscuity, lack of romance, and the end of civilization as we know it. If the robots and the zombies don’t get us first, sex-crazed, babyless women certainly will.
Here’s a simple idea: Women deserve to be able to access safe, effective medications that are integral to their health and their ability to control when and if to have a baby. Women, like men, also deserve fulfilling sex lives they can enjoy for a lifetime without being labeled unnatural nymphomaniacs. For health care and justice, we need a refill.
Jessica Hille just finished her internship with Legal Voice. She's just finished up her LLM inLaw and Policy at the University of Washington-Seattle. She is moving to Bloomington, Indiana to start a PhD in Gender Studies this fall and hopes to use her legal and advocacy background to promote gender equality and reproductive justice theory and policies.