The XX Factor

Wedding or Not, Let’s Talk About The Pill

Debra , I appreciate some of the points you made about the No Wedding No Womb campaign, but I do want to quibble with one point. When you say “Aren’t condoms easier?” I have to point out that the answer to your question is all too often, “No.” Some folks are talking up personal responsibility, some are talking about the social context that causes some young women to have children before they’re really ready, but barely anyone’s talking about the fact that no, contraception isn’t that easy.

The lack of focus on the role contraception plays in all this is one reason I agree with Monica Potts that this whole campaign moved more into the direction of shaming women over their sexuality than actually speaking realistically about ways to improve women and children’s well-being. Sixty-nine percent of black women’s pregnancies are unintended , compared with 40 percent of white women’s and 54 percent of Hispanic women’s. The result? It’s not just that black women give birth while unmarried more (though, as Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out , the birthrate for unmarried black women is actually dropping), but black women also have a much higher abortion rate. The problem isn’t really an education gap-sex education in this country is poor, but it’s equally poor across different race categories. As this new widespread survey from researchers at Indiana University shows, condom use is actually higher amongst black and Hispanic men than white men.

But more doesn’t mean always. I suggest that the most underdiscussed factor in all this is that the demand for female-controlled contraception like the pill-which is easier to be consistent with than condoms-isn’t being met. Debra, you suggest that young women living in poverty should delay child-bearing while working through their low-paying jobs and trying to save some money. But delaying childbirth in and of itself costs money. I just recently renewed my birth-control prescription, and even thought I have insurance, it’s now costing me $50 a month to be on the pill. Condoms are cheaper, but still, a box of 36 can run you $25. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and few who make that have employers who provide them full-time jobs. Contraception is so expensive it’s no wonder some women try to wing it, and why so many of them find themselves pregnant unexpectedly. According to the Guttmacher Institute , 18 percent of low-income pill users surveyed skipped pills because they couldn’t afford them, and 24 percent of low-income women put off a visit to the gynecologist to save money. Just last year alone, 1.3 million women were added to the rolls of the uninsured, so this particular problem is likely only to get worse.

I don’t think we can even talk about the various methods-pushing personal responsibility, talking about systemic pressures, looking for middle ground between the two-of encouraging young women to delay childbirth unless we’re willing to start looking at contraception. The “why” is an important aspect in this debate, but it shouldn’t overshadow the basic question of “how.”

Photograph of oral contraceptives by Matthew Bowden for Wikimedia Commons.