Not only has the fight over access to contraception been led entirely by men (President Obama on one side, Sen. Marco Rubio and House Speaker John Boehner on the other), but a recent report has confirmed that the voices that have dominated this debate in media have been overwhelmingly male, as well. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin male guests and commentators outnumbered females in discussions of the contraception controversy on news programs. Sen. Rick Santorum’s inaccurate remarks regarding the cost of contraception served as a powerful reminder of the severe handicap our political discourse suffers when women are not permitted to speak for themselves on the issues that directly affect them.
Before contraception was widely available, there were far fewer women able to do just that, because of the physical, emotional, and financial demands that giving birth to and raising sometimes more than a dozen children (something my great-grandmother did) required. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe some of these elected officials fighting so hard to make contraception as inaccessible as possible want to return to the good old days when contraception was virtually impossible to come by, and therefore men were able to rule the world and, more importantly, their households. Men were able to enjoy absolute power in the legal system and in domestic life without fear that a woman could carve out some semblance of financial and political independence that would enable her to engage in such scandalous behavior as running for office or leaving an abusive relationship. Because after all, where would a woman with six, or seven, or eight small children to care for really go, even if she had a good reason to?
With that in mind, below is a list of the most powerful ways contraception has impacted and continues to impact the world, from issues such as literacy to life expectancy rates of women. I’m sure there are more than 10, so please feel free to add to the list in the comments section below.
1. In countries with the highest fertility rates, women have the shortest life expectancies.
Women in Sierra Leone live half as long as women in developed countries and 10 years less than their African counterparts in some African countries, and no, this is not merely due to the history of civil unrest. One in eight Sierra Leonean women die in childbirth. In other countries like Chad, where women are likely to give birth to six or more children, women are lucky to live to age 55.
2. In countries with the highest fertility rates, women have the fewest rights.
In countries like Niger and Mali, both of which fall in the top 10 for countries with the greatest number of births per woman, women and young girls can still be forced into marriages. A recent case in Niger documented a 9-year-old girl forced to “marry” a 50-year-old man.
3. Countries with low contraception usage have the lowest number of women who can read.
In Afghanistan, which continues to have one of the highest fertility rates in the world, and where contraception knowledge and access remains limited (and women give birth to an average of six children), 87 percent of women cannot read. In Sierra Leone the number is 71 percent.
4. Men who physically abuse their partners fear contraception. (Think about that for a moment.)
A national study of more than 3,000 abused women conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that one in four said their partners sabotaged, hid, or prohibited use of birth control as a form of control in an already abusive relationship. These findings confirmed those of a number of smaller studies.
5. When contraception availability goes down, abortion rates go up.
Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines, but for the last decade the nation’s capital, Manila, has been at the heart of a battle over contraception. Contraception was stigmatized and difficult to access prior to 2000, when contraception was prohibited altogether by an executive order. (It is not unusual for women who have come of age in the city during the time period of the ban to have more than 10 children.) While the abortion rate in the country has barely changed in recent years, the rate in Manila increased by more than 10 percent. So has the number of women dying of complications from illegal abortions.
6. Countries with the highest fertility rates have the highest poverty rates.
Ten of the countries with the world’s highest fertility rates are located in Africa. Between 1990 and 2001, the African continent experienced what is deemed “extreme population growth.” The number of those on the continent living in “extreme poverty” ballooned from 231 million to 318 million.
7. Before contraception* American women were statistically more likely to die in childbirth than they are today.
At the start of the 20th century, the maternal mortality rate in America was approximately 65 times higher than it is today. During the 17th and 18th centuries, long before modern contraception became widely available, the average American woman gave birth to between five and eight children. Her likelihood of dying in childbirth increased with every birth. The number of women who died in childbirth or its immediate aftermath was one in every eight women.
*Forms of contraception have been available since ancient times (click here to see ancient forms of contraception), but contraception did not become widely available in the U.S. until the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. Click here to read about Griswold and other key contraception cases.)
8. Before contraception men greatly outnumbered American women in colleges.
Today, women outnumber men. In 1960, just before the Griswold decision, only 35 percent of college students were women. Today women represent at least 57 percent of students on most college campuses.
9. Before contraception there were no female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
Katherine Graham became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she became Chairman of the Washington Post Company in 1973. She inherited the publication from her husband, who had inherited the role from Graham’s father, but Graham succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations. Since her trailblazing ascent, more than a dozen other women have reached the highest rung on the corporate ladder with a record-breaking 18 women serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2011, the largest number in history.
10. Before contraception women were virtually invisible in Congress.
Just before contraception became officially legal in the U.S. (1965), there were 20 women in the House of Representatives and one female senator, Margaret Chase Smith. None of them were women of color. (Patsy Mink, an Asian American, was elected to her first term the year Griswold was decided by the Supreme Court.) Today there are 76 women in the House. Fourteen of them are African American, four of them are Asian American, and seven are Latina. There are 17 women in the Senate.
And for the record, I doubt any of them want to return to the days when men spoke and voted for them, or for any of the rest of us blessed with ovaries.
I head to the ER. If I’m lucky, the family will accept the news that, in a time when we can separate conjoined twins and reattach severed limbs, people still wear out and die of old age. If I’m lucky, the family will recognize that their loved one’s life is nearing its end.
But I’m not always lucky. The family may ask me to use my physician superpowers to push the patient’s tired body further down the road, with little thought as to whether the additional suffering to get there will be worth it. For many Americans, modern medical advances have made death seem more like an option than an obligation. We want our loved ones to live as long as possible, but our culture has come to view death as a medical failure rather than life’s natural conclusion.
Dear Susan G. Komen for the Cure,
I was so excited and glad to be part of a group that empowered and helped women across the country and in my own community by making knowledge and resources available to those in which it previously was not.
After reading today’s news, I am ashamed that I spent so much time and effort raising money for an organization that now obviously caters to political opinions instead of the actual health of women. Trust that the people that made the donations are equally appalled. I hope the SGK organization is aware of how their decision to part ways with PP will have a hugely negative impact on the lives of women and their families all over the country.
I realize that this local chapter is part of a much larger institution, so please feel free to forward my disgust on to them if you are able to.
This man would not return to his little village in defeat, sad and grieving. He would go home the proud, respected father. We could make his son a hero and send him home in glory. So we talked.
“When your son came to this country, he had dreams and plans. He wanted to be a success in America. He wanted to make you proud of him. He wanted to come home a hero, and a real hero is a man who doesn’t think of himself first. He is a man who is willing to make sacrifices. A hero is a man who will give up his own life so others may live. That is what a hero is.”
The old man looked deep into my eyes.
“I will tell you in the morning” he said, and then he left.
The next day, when I went to meet with the father, he greeted me with an embrace. “Let us talk of heroes,” he said. “How many lives can my son save today?”
“He can save two lives with his kidneys, two lives with his lungs and another with his heart,” I said. “He can save a life with his liver and help a diabetic with his pancreas. With his skin we can heal the burns that otherwise would be forever painful, and with his bones we can help many people walk. With his eyes he will bring sight to two people who would be in darkness without him. He will save many lives and change many more.”
“Good, then we can put up a plaque in the church by the plaza so that everyone in the village can see. My son will come home a hero. I hope you will do our family the honor of coming to visit the plaque sometime and see the place where my son grew up.”
That night, when I filled out the death form, my tears fell on the part that asked if the family was approached about organ donation. I had never felt so good about putting an “X” in the box. I had never felt better about what I do. It just doesn’t get any better than being on a team that saves lives and at the same time helps ordinary people become heroes.
Someday I’m going down to that village in Mexico. I’m going to see that plaque and meet that young man’s family. I need to tell them again what a hero he was. They all need to know he saved so many lives.
Rat poison. Lighter fluid. Battery acid. Pesticides. And now…radiation. What do they all have in common? They’re all rolled into one cancer causing cigarette. What’s worse, tobacco companies have known that radiation was inside cigarettes but hid evidence of it for 4 decades.
The radioactive substance found in cigarettes is polonium-210, a radioactive material that “emits hazardous particles called alpha particles”. Whens smokers inhale, the particles work with the other carcinogens found in cigarettes to pull double duty in damaging the lungs (and creating cancer).
ABC News reports that researchers at UCLA recently discovered that tobacco companies knew of radiation in cigarettes as far back as 1959. In 1960, the tobacco companies studied polonium, figured how much radiation a normal smoker would inhale over 20 years, knew it would cause cancer but nefariously hid their calculations so no one would find out. They did their research, knew it was bad and covered their tracks.
Later on, the tobacco companies even ignored new procedures like “acid washing” that would have removed 99% of the polonium-210 from cigarettes. Their reason for not using it? The process would have reduced the “instant nicotine rush” smokers crave. If healthier means less addictive, tobacco companies will never let it happen.
“In Australia and New Zealand it is available from 3M as Difflam-C Alcohol & Colour Free Solution, Difflam 3% Gel, Difflam Extra Strength Gel 5%, Difflam-C Solution, Difflam Solution (including Difflam Throat Spray), Difflam Cream and Difflam Lozenges.
It is sold in eastern Europe without prescription as Tantum Rosa - a vaginal antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, containing 0.5 g of benzydamine hydrochloride to be reconstituted with clean water to a 0.1% (1 mg/mL) solution for vaginal enema/instillation.”
Actually, it sorta makes sense that throat spray and vaginal washes would be the same thing. Similar environments, right?