Reproductive Writes: The Rebranding Of Birth Control
Billboards proclaiming Black Children Are An Endangered Species have appeared across the city of Atlanta in the last couple of weeks. The poster was created by activist groups Georgia Right To Life and the Radiance Foundation. They claim that black women have three times the number of abortions in comparison to white women in the state and that this is indicative of a eugenics-based conspiracy to deplete the African American population. A conspiracy, they argue, that goes right back to the agitator for birth control, Margaret Sanger, who, they say, would have been happy to hear that 40% of African American women's pregnancies are aborted.
The New York Times reported that in 2006 57.4% of abortions were performed on black women, although African Americans make up 30% of the population of Georgia. However, the fertility rate amongst black women, that is the number of births per 1,000 women, remains higher than the national average.
There has been some very astute commentary on this topic, but here I want to focus on some points I have not yet seen covered.
I have written in my blog about a statistic that states 1 in 5 black teenagers use the contraceptive injection, Depo Provera - many more so than white teenagers. This works out as 9% of white teenagers to 18% of black teenagers. This is not necessarily because of their race, but such long-acting hormonal contraceptive methods are administered to higher numbers of low-income women who receive state-funded health care. State governments often provide subsidies to make the injection cheaper and more available to their poorer communities. In comparison to the Pill, the injection is less expensive to provide - it's given every three months - and is seen to have a higher rate of effectiveness.
Depo Provera is currently being promoted to women, alongside the other long-acting methods - the implant, the hormonal IUD Mirena - as the latest, greatest form of contraception. Yet Depo Provera has in fact been around for a long time. It's been used for the chemical castration of pedophiles and sex-offenders for decades. This is because it aggressively wipes out levels of the hormone testosterone, dramatically decreasing libido. Testosterone levels do not only tie to libido, but also energy levels, mood and general well being.
The injection is also popular as a method administered to women in developing countries. There have been reports on the coercive techniques used to increase use of this drug - women given the 'option' of sterilization or the injection, or threatened with unemployment or imprisonment - but many more are not given information on how Depo Provera works or its potential side effects. It has a significant impact on bone density, for example. The injection also, of course, does not protect women against HIV or other STDs. Barrier methods controlled by women such as the diaphragm or the sponge would seem more logical, and to some they do: There is a new one-size-fits-all diaphragm awaiting FDA approval, as well as a new spermicide that could prevent the transmission of HIV.
Barbara Seaman, author of The Doctor's Case Against The Pill, argued in 1969 that the Pill was given 'diplomatic immunity' due on its use for population control. She believed the health of individual women was being sacrificed for this 'greater good.' I see the population control argument for hormonal contraceptives - then the Pill, now the long-acting methods - as based in fallacy. The issue of world poverty does not spring solely from the sheer number of people being born, but also has its foundations in the unequal distribution of resources. Impoverished women, those in developing countries, are more likely to die in childbirth, and certainly find it harder to survive the more children they have, but the injection is a crude fix for poverty that lets us sit back and make no substantial change to how our world is organized.
The promotion of long-acting methods of contraception to young women in the US and Europe has been coupled with negative press surrounding the Pill's effectiveness. The injection is seen as the solution to the unplanned pregnancy problem. 88% of women supposedly forget to take one to three birth control pills within one month. Articles that intelligently discuss the impact of the Pill on women's bodies frequently misguidedly advocate long-acting hormonal methods as an alternative, effectively missing the point entirely.
Increasingly young women are portrayed as living a 'lifestyle' (such a judgement-laden word) that would be better suited to the injection, implant or hormonal IUD, than the Pill - which they need to remember (read: be trusted) to take every day. We are all supposed to be jumping up and down with glee at this whole new exciting range of contraceptive choices, when long-acting methods actually work to put the control mainly in the hands of medical authorities. It is suggested that women don't want to have to think about contraception, when in truth they should be trusted, allowed, and equipped to think a lot more critically.
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