2011 was a hard year for women’s reproductive rights, with one of the biggest struggles being the proposed budget cuts that service pharmaceutical-providing facilities like Planned Parenthood. Many funds for these centers, clinics, prescriptions and doctors are maintained through the use of an existing federal budget program, The Title X National Family Planning Program. For many women, especially those from lower income families, these centers are one of the only ways for them to have access to contraceptives. In the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, Title X funding will drop from $299 million to $291.4 million.
Another hard blow came with the announcement that a recommendation which would remove the need for a pharmaceutical prescription to obtain the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill was overruled by the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sibelius. President Obama issued a badly worded statement, saying it was “common sense” that access to this pill should be limited to persons 18+ without a pharmaceutical prescription. Arguments from various view points have arisen, including outrage at the President and the Health and Human Services department for policing American women’s reproductive rights and maintaining the age restriction on Plan B. Others agree with the President’s statement and support the current limitations set on the pill.
Speaking as someone who has had to take Plan B more than once for different reasons, I cannot support the current limitations on the access of this medication to women of younger ages. I was fortunate enough to not need Plan B before I turned 18 and only had to deal with a mildly judgmental pharmacist, but I can only imagine what younger girls have to go through in order to obtain it.
For myself, while I was growing up, my parents never talked to me about sex; how to have it safely, condoms, or other forms of birth control. All of the information I got was through sex ed from public schools. We had a week of education in the 5th grade, a fractured semester in middle school, and another semester in high school. I grew up in Texas and the entire time the attitude towards teenagers having sex was mainly something along the lines of “DON’T HAVE SEX! IF you have sex you will catch Chlamydia and diieeeeeee.” Most of the emphasis was placed on showing us the terrible things that would happen to us if we had sex and the best thing to do was abstain. I don’t ever remember a teacher or nurse talking about condoms, the pill, IUDs, or abortions.
Many political campaigns and actions support this form of education. For example, funding during the Bush Administration was bolstered by up to $204 million to teach abstinence-only sex ed in America’s public schools. As a result of my poor education on the subject, protecting myself from pregnancy and disease was more of a learn-as-you-go process. I was having sex before most of my friends, and shared a computer with my exceedingly nosy brother. The combination resulted in relying on rigid use of condoms and keeping the amount of sex I was actually having minimal. For me, an unplanned pregnancy is still one of the worst things that could possibly happen.
From talking to friends and family that are younger than myself, I’ve gathered that very little has changed in the way of teaching younger women about ways to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies. This is one of the main reasons why I do not agree that Plan B should be an entirely over-the-counter medication. I agree with lifting the age restriction because there are millions of young women under 18 that are sexually active. However, many of them do not understand how the medication works and may not have anybody to talk to when choosing to take it.
I first took Plan B after a short course on hormonal birth control. I had spoken to a gynecologist about how medication like Plan B and the birth control pill worked and had my own laptop so I could Google to my heart’s content and feel well informed—none of which I could have done if I had needed to take Plan B when I was younger. My body didn’t handle taking Plan B very well due to side effects and the amount of additional hormones in my system. The whole process was uncomfortable and scary for me as an adult, even with people to talk to and friends that were supportive. I would hate to imagine how much worse it would have been as a teenager.
I believe that in addition to lifting the age restriction on Plan B, sexual education needs to acknowledge there is more to just abstaining from sex to prevent STDs and pregnancies. We need to teach young women about their options concerning safe sex, as well as giving women that do take Plan B an easily accessible support system for information—beyond the paperwork that is attached to the pill bottle.
Patricia is a first generation Mexican-American, born in Houston Texas. Patricia went to school at The California College of the Arts as a Fashion Design major. Her senior year she put together her own capsule collection and was awarded a spread in Surface Magazine. She also was given an internship with Nicole Miller in New York, which she has just completed. Patricia has returned to Texas to care for her father while he begins treatment for colon cancer. Patricia likes scary movies, dancing, tattoos, cats, and knitting.
Her fear is rejection, and that her self-doubt and insecurities will hold her back in her future endeavors.