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Governments should not legislate against contraception

Posted in: Sexual Health 20 Apr, 2012

Attitudes towards contraception are relatively neutral in the UK. I would suspect few of the younger generations have ever thought about the moral or religious implications of birth control pills unless it is in the context of feminist rhetoric or philosophical pondering.

Our transatlantic friends, on the other hand, seem to think differently. Last month, amidst the whirlwind that is the presidential primaries season in the US, we saw Arizona pass a law which prevents women from gaining access to contraceptive pills through a health insurance plan if their employer objects.

This flies in the face of Obama’s contraception mandate, which allows all women to have the cost of contraceptive pills covered by work health insurance.

This week, it seems that the US has furthered what seems to have turned into a quest to alienate any woman who believes she has the right to choose whether or not to procreate. Lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies who manufacture many of the most popular contraceptive pills on the market have flowed in by the thousands since studies linked them to a risk of blood clots.

With over one million lawyers in the country and a society which seems to take to courtrooms as the rest of us take to cups of tea, no one who trades in the US market would consider getting served with a potential lawsuit a surprise. In fact, these suits would not have caused more than a mild headache had the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) not decided that these potential risks warranted warnings on the packaging.

For us Brits, who would assume that an independent governing agency would be impartial, this may seem like the most appropriate way to deal with the issue. However, in the US they seem to do things slightly differently, as the FDA Commissioner is personally appointed by the US Government.

Whether or not that would influence their thinking none of us can know but last year the FDA made the controversial decision to offer over the counter emergency contraception to girls under 16. The government – despite being viewed as one of the most liberal in recent American politics – overturned the decision, showing the nation where the power really lies.

Coincidental that in the run-up to a general election party politics is using healthcare as a weapon? No. Surprising? Perhaps not. But when it comes to decisions as personal as contraception, it seems unfair and even inhumane to legislate over people’s lives to such an extent in a bid to win votes.

Over 3.5 million women in the UK use some form of oral contraception and we are lucky to live in a country which makes the pill accessible to all women without judgement. Some might say we’ve come a long way from the 1960s rules which dictated that only married women were allowed to use birth control.

So how is it that in so many progressive countries around the world, governments are legislating over what is a basic human right? This is not about the pharmaceutical industry or about political tactics. The question I would pose it this: How important is a woman’s right to decide for herself whether or not she wants to have a baby?

Without getting into pro-choice versus pro-life issues, it should surely be our right – whatever our age, class or marital status – to make the informed decision to have sex with whomever we want and not get pregnant. Apparently the US government disagrees, and no one’s doing a thing about it.

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