Health

Birth Control Can Save Lives and Fertility

A lot of people at Houston's May 7 abortion rights rally are waiting for what comes next as states are already gearing up to stop birth control. Texas may be one of them.
A lot of people at Houston's May 7 abortion rights rally are waiting for what comes next as states are already gearing up to stop birth control. Texas may be one of them. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Birth control is the reason I even have a child. If the state of Texas follows up its abortion ban with an attack on birth control, it’s going to negatively impact the health and fertility of a lot of people.

After a draft of a Supreme Court opinion leaked showing the court was ready to repeal federal protection of abortion completely, Texans have begun gearing up for the worst. If Roe v. Wade is struck down, within 30 days a “trigger law” in the state will ban all abortion except for medical necessity and will make it a crime to perform one. Republican-controlled states like Louisiana and Tennessee have signaled that they will be tackling banning some forms of birth control next. Some experts believe it’s only a matter of time before Texas follows suit, though Governor Greg Abbott has been cagey on whether he will try and take that step.

It's time to remember that birth control is not simply a way to prevent pregnancy. It is a medical necessity for millions of people.

My wife started having extremely painful periods as a teen, and around the turn of the century they became nigh-unbearable. The pain involved was so bad that her mother, who had been a nurse for almost 50 years at that time, thought it had to be ovarian cancer. Luckily, a doctor discovered that it was actually endometriosis, a disease of the reproductive system that makes uterine tissue grow on places where it isn’t supposed to. The disease affects up to 10 percent of Americans with uteruses, and for a variety of mostly sexist reasons, it can go undiagnosed for ten years.

My wife proceeded to have the first of three laser surgeries to remove the tissue on her ovaries, which gave her almost immediate relief. Her doctor told her there were three treatment options: she could have an oophorectomy, she could have a child (it “reboots” the system sometimes), or she could go on hormonal birth control to delay the spread. Being young, unmarried, and fresh out of college looking for work, she chose birth control.

This was pre-Affordable Care Act, so she ran into an immediate problem. Every time she would start a new job, it was a roll of the dice to see if her birth control would be covered at all. Even if it was, sometimes her endometriosis would be classified a pre-existing condition and specific brands shown to help with the condition would not be covered. Once the Great Recession hit, we were often forced to choose between birth control and rent. So, the endometriosis crept back twice and required more surgeries in addition to the pain.

The constant attack from her own body, and the fact that ovaries do not like having lasers shot at them, severely affected her fertility. Once we were married, it would take us five years and thousands of dollars’ worth of fertility treatments to conceive, something that might never have been necessary if she’d simply been able to stay on birth control regularly until we were ready to have a kid. Even her priest told her that she had a “pass” on using birth control because it was to preserve her ability to give birth. When the Catholic Church is the voice of moderation on birth control, things have gone askew.

Nor is she alone. More than a million Americans take birth control for reasons other than contraception. Susie McGowan, a technical writer in Tomball, first discovered something was wrong when she started profusely bleeding from the vagina while working at Walmart at the age of 18. Her mother took her to the doctor and got her on birth control, which slowed the flow and relieved the painful cramps that accompanied it. Now, she is on an IUD that stops her period completely.

“Previously the pill would control my flow, and the days I would be incapacitated would be limited to about four a month,” she says. “Without it, I would be unable to do anything but sit or lay down without excruciating pain.”

Scarlett Fontenot, a shipping and receiving manager in Orange, has a similar story. She started having to miss school as a preteen because of severe pain when she would menstruate. The birth control her doctor put her on limited her periods to four times a year, but whenever she is without insurance they can cost $300. It’s a rough choice if she wants to stay employed.

“Without the pill I would probably lose my job,” she says. “I would end up missing work every single time I had a period. The pain would be unbearable. Birth control helps me live a normal life.”

One condition that birth control is essential to treat is polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is one of the most common diseases of the female reproductive system, affecting as many as 5 million Americans. In addition to life-threating conditions like diabetes and stroke, it is one of the leading causes of infertility.

Irene Liner, a grad student from Brookshire, has severe PCOS combined with a hormonal imbalance. It  formed multiple massive cysts on her ovaries the size of baseballs. Birth control is the only thing that has brought her relief.

“While being on the pill isn't my favorite thing in the world due to side effects, it makes things easier for me,” she says. “Without the pill, I am in pain frequently as cysts grow on my ovaries. With the birth control, I have manageable pain, predictable periods, slightly lighter flows, slowed cyst growth, and slight mood regulation.”

There are thousands of people in Texas who need birth control for reasons beyond contraception. If the state decides to limit access, it would leave a large chunk of the population in great pain and deeply affect their quality of life. Ironically, it would also keep many of them from being able to conceive when and if they want to.

Unfortunately, Texas puts few resources to helping in this regard. It is one of only two states that will not cover hormonal birth control for minors under the CHIP program. Because it has refused the Medicaid expansion, low-income adults are unable to receive government money to help defray the cost of birth control. Low cost birth control is often available through organizations like Planned Parenthood, but decades of Republican-led attacks on it has made it so that nearly half of people seeking birth control from Planned Parenthood in the state were unable to get it.

That is going to keep a lot of people in agony and destroy their reproductive systems should the state target birth control access next.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner