Contraception! Who gets to decide what information we are given?
Grab yourself a brew (and maybe some biscuits) because I am about to go off on a rant and a half!
Let's talk about contraception. As a birth doula, this isn't something I usually end up talking about, but as a woman who isn't ready to have children yet and a feminist who respects every woman's right to choose what is right for her body, it is a topic close to my heart.
Starting with sex education way back in school, we are only ever really told about certain methods of contraception. We learn a bit about the pill, maybe a bit on the injection and of course everyone remembers the demonstration of how to put a condom on a cucumber or banana or any other object that doesn't look like a real penis so that the teacher doesn't get embarrassed. I am grateful to have, at the very least, been taught some of the science and practicalities of puberty and sex - because for some unknown reason that is still something parents can opt-out of on their child's behalf! But that's another debate for another time - it would take too long to cover everything now, your tea will go cold.
Over a period of about 4 years I tried two different types of the pill and the injection before deciding to have a detox because the hormones were making me crazy. The side-effects are different for everyone but the general consensus being that there is at least one pretty rough down-side to every hormonal contraception option. Condoms was the only other option (that I knew of) - our readily available, non-hormonal, trusty, 98% effective friend. However, it took one of these trusty little guys to split for me to end up seeking emergency contraception. Luckily for me (because some women have a much worse time of it), I only had to wait about 4 hours at a walk-in clinic (feeling alone and nervous), complete an incredibly personal face-to-face questionnaire and brush off several judgemental 'I don't believe you' looks, for someone to finally tell me about the copper coil! I listened intently as they told me how it was hormone-free, had very few side-effects, could stay in for 5 years (some stay in for 10!) but can be removed any time I wanted, and it is more than 99% effective....
...SHUT THE FRIDGE!!
Why in the hell had nobody taught me about this wonderful option before?! I had suffered through years of hormones messing with my brain, my skin, my personality. I got it fitted that day and have not regretted it once. 4 years later, I have gotten to thinking... who decides which methods of contraception are offered to us? If we are born into a religion that believes abstinence is the only way - where do we get the information to decide for ourselves? If our parents decide that sex is too difficult a topic and tick that opt-out box on the form, where do we learn about our body and the changes we are going to go through? Why should other people get to decide what information we get about puberty, sex and contraception?
This power play continues throughout our lives, with anything to do with women's bodies.
Which brings me to the point of this blog: Being refused access to contraception!
(Sorry, it took me a while to get to this bit! Have another biscuit...)
A few years ago, my friend was seeking the morning after pill at a pharmacy. She had gone to the only pharmacy open that Sunday morning, she steeled herself, walked up to the desk in the not-so-private supermarket aisle where the pharmacy is located and told the pharmacist what she wanted to purchase. There was no medical reason for her to be unable to access the morning after pill, but the pharmacist said no. He said that he could not dispense the pill because of his personal beliefs.
I'm sorry, WHAT?!
I couldn't believe this was legal, especially with something as time-sensitive as the morning-after pill. I furiously googled it and found that yep, apparently pharmacists have an opt-out clause (much like prudish parents with sex education) which gives them the power to inflict their personal views onto others, potentially causing an unwanted pregnancy. Technically, if a pharmacist exercises this ridiculous clause, they are supposed to offer an alternative, but what good is that on a Sunday when nowhere nearby is open and the customer can't drive?
I can't find any information on whether or not this is still the case, but I did recently see an article about a very similar experience in a Lloyds pharmacy - they apologised. Not sure how an apology will help the woman who could potentially be facing an unwanted pregnancy or an abortion right now, but at least they've admitted that it's wrong.
(I signed a petition relating to the Lloyds story. I'm not sure how effective petitions can be but it's worth a go hey? https://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/takeaction/753/041/760/ )
So I have a few questions; would a doctor who is a Jehovah's witness have a clause to opt-out of giving a life-saving blood transfusion because of her/his own personal beliefs? Does a doctor who is Jewish have an opt-in clause to enforce circumcision on all babies because of his/her own beliefs? Is the opt-out clause used for anything other than emergency contraception, or is it a clause solely for the purpose of denying women the right to decide whether or not to have a baby?
If we take away a woman's control of her own body, we are telling her that she should just comply - that her body is for the use of anyone who wants it.
What does that say about consent?
I have a whole load more to say about consent and control in the birth room!
However, you're probably 5 biscuits deep by now so I'll let you get on with your day.
Keep an eye out for the next post!
Resources on this topic:
- For anyone who is interested, I found this conference that looks like it will be full of really interesting ways to make contraception more easily available: https://www.mediconf.co.uk/Event-Details.aspx?id=1243&fbclid=IwAR253Us2iPL7bhN2E3VK1s-XdvIm6U1UmwHBpuf9DumFPHy6Zhv26kFVywM
- The most recent changes I found on the opt-out clause (2017):
- The Lloyd's Pharmacy article:
- Some fascinating for and against comments from pharmacists about the opt-out clause:
- The NHS contraception guide:
- Info on the copper coil (IUD):