Why birth control choice matters to all families

Should the US Hobby Lobby ruling worry Canadians? Recent developments in the birth control debate give Emma Waverman cause for alarm.

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If you can’t choose the size of your family, you don’t have many choices in life. Just ask the many international-aid organizations that say access to birth control is one of the most important issues facing poverty-stricken women worldwide.

After the US Supreme Court’s recent decision that says it is OK for corporations to refuse coverage for certain birth control methods because of religious reasons, many women (and men) are left wondering about the state of women’s access to healthcare in the US, and elsewhere.

Hobby Lobby (a crafts store) was the one that brought the suit forward, which in essence claims that a corporation should have religious rights. But I was surprised to see that Eden Foods is also one of the co-signatories. Eden Foods was the only company I recognized, and I have some Eden Foods organic chickpeas in my pantry right now. It may be more shocking that an organic company appealing to left-leaning consumers would be part of the suit. But I can tell you that can of chickpeas is the last item I will ever buy from them. Stores such as Whole Foods are now getting pressure to not stock Eden Foods in the light of their anti-birth control stance.

The legal ruling was a split decision—meaning that five Supreme Court judges agreed, and four were against. The court ruled that businesses don’t have to cover IUDs, Plan B or Elle—because they are abortifacients. This is not true. As OB/GYN Jen Gunter wrote in a recent blog post:

“We call these methods contraceptives, not abortifacients, because in science, unlike the Supreme Court, we like facts, and facts tell us that these methods do not cause abortion (which is, by definition, the disruption of a pregnancy that is already implanted, no matter how early).”

Her argument points out all the reasons why the Supreme Court got it wrong.

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But why should Canadian women care? We have access to healthcare. Our extended healthcare coverage (if we have any) doesn’t limit our freedom to choose our birth control. It’s so easy to be smug up here in the north where our church and state don’t intermingle so dangerously. The Canadian Medical Association supports doctors denying abortions because of medical issues, but admitted in the Ottawa Citizen that denying birth control is a grey area.

If you wanted to get birth control and walked into a clinic in Calgary when general practitioner Chantal Barry is working, that grey area becomes much more black and white. Barry won’t prescribe birth control, and when she is on duty a sign goes up recommending women go to other places to find contraceptives. There is also a practice in Ottawa that is denying women their right to birth control, too.

These doctors can hold any personal beliefs that they want. But they can’t extend them to my health. I have a Mirena IUD, which is one of the most effective forms of birth control out there, but it’s more than just a contraceptive. The progesterone in the IUD stops my period, which was extremely heavy because of a blood disorder that I have. Previously, I was constantly anemic, but thanks to the IUD my iron levels are now normal for the first time in 10 years.

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But I guess the good doctors wouldn’t have prescribed the Mirena to me, even though it’s better for my health. And it’s because of this that I don’t think they should be allowed to practice if they are going to deny important treatment to women. I wonder how these doctors feel about Viagra (which isn’t being banned)? Or is that OK because it doesn’t prevent the creation of embryos?

Contraceptives aren’t just stopping pregnancies: In many cases they are necessary to a woman’s health and well-being. But I don’t want to minimize how important taking charge of your fertility is—choosing when and how many babies to have is an integral part of women’s health.

As Canadians, we aren’t directly affected by the Hobby Lobby decision. But the slow creep of denying women choices about our own bodies is part of the Canadian landscape, as well. I want my daughter—and my sons—to know they are the only people who have the right to make decisions about their bodies and their healthcare.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman

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