The XX Factor

Ricki Lake Starts a Crusade Against Hormonal Birth Control

Abby Epstein (left) and Ricki Lake, pictured in Australia in 2007, want you to fear hormonal birth control. 

Photo by Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

Meet the newest hero of the anti-choice movement. Talk show host and actress Ricki Lake, who some hailed as a feminist hero for her 2008 anti-obstetrician documentary The Business of Being Bornis raising money on Kickstarter for a documentary based on the book Sweetening the Pill, by self-declared feminist Holly Grigg-Spall. Sweetening the Pill was widely praised by the Christian right for discouraging women from using hormonal birth control.

When Grigg-Spall’s book came out, Lindsay Beyerstein, writing for Slate, thoroughly debunked Grigg-Spall’s half-baked arguments, scientific illiteracy, and regressive attitudes toward female gender roles. “Women are encouraged to suppress their monthly ovulatory cycle in order to not miss any days of work or so as they can remain sexually available,” Grigg-Spall writes. In reality, many women actually do enjoy either working outside the home or having sex for their own reasons, as opposed to simply being “sexually available” for male use.

Grigg-Spall’s retrograde attitudes about women are the most fun to unravel, but the more serious issue was her bad science. She leveled accusations about the pill—that it causes depression, weight gain, or headaches—that double-blind studies have debunked. The one bona fide risk of the pill, increased risk of blood clots, is slight and falls far below the blood clot risk of pregnancy

But pregnancy is “natural” and hormonal contraception is “unnatural,” and “unnatural” is the problem, according to Grigg-Spall and now Ricki Lake. “Our goal with this film is to wake women up to the unexposed side effects of these powerful medications and the unforeseen consequences of repressing women’s natural cycles,” Lake and her director, Abby Epstein, said last year in a fundraising statement.

A similar faith in the benevolence of nature is all over The Business of Being Born, which conflates the naturalness of childbirth with safety. Human history should say otherwise, but medical experts concur: Some people make it out of home birth OK, even at the hands of noncertified midwives, but the inherent danger of childbirth suggests you’re just better off in a hospital or in a birthing center, in the hands of people who have actual medical training and access to modern technology. 

Lake and Epstein present themselves as pro-contraception, but their trailer and Kickstarter page primarily pushes the same “fertility awareness method” beloved by the Catholic Church. I like its other name, “periodic abstinence,” because avoiding sex at certain times of the month is the central concept behind it.

Despite their feminist veneer, The Business of Being Born and Sweetening the Pill are little more than a 21st-century spin on the very old belief that women’s beings should be reduced to and defined by our reproductive functions. As nice as it would be to believe otherwise, nature—which produces mosquitoes and measles and sunburns—is not your friend. And the human ability to manipulate nature and extract what we want out of it is the defining feature of our species.