We’re all aware of the war on women. We have watched ourselves gain ground, and then lose it. We all watched Wendy Davis kick filibuster butt, celebrated the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and have witnessed the constant back-and-forth of comprehensive sex education in schools taking one step forward while abstinence-only education forces us three steps back.
But are we leaving girls out of the equation? Are we forgetting that girls are as affected by the passing (or rejection) of legislation as adult women? We regularly fight for women to be recognized as more than just potential incubators, but aren’t we just relegating girls to that same status by excluding them from the “War on Women” title?
How are contraceptives relevant to girls, especially pre-pubescent girls? Abstinence-only education has a great deal of support in regard to pre-teen youth because the rhetoric upholds the idea that when children are introduced to or educated about sex or reproduction, it will encourage them to engage in that behavior. As long as the rhetoric maintain this mantra, girls are never more than potential incubators in the eyes of the law. If girls will not be included in the conversations regarding their bodies, let alone entrusted with the care of their own bodies, no progress can be made that effectively represents girls as powerful, capable individuals with valuable opinions. These conversations must begin in the realm of contraceptives because nothing is more intrinsic than our sexualities and how we express them.
We are not just fighting for the rights of women when we fight for access to affordable contraceptives. We are fighting for the rights of teens, particularly girls, to be recognized as capable, inquisitive individuals with viable identities. We must go further to include them in the ways we define and fight for female reproductive health.
The first time I learned about emergency contraception, it was 2008 and I was 18 years old. One year later, I needed emergency contraception for the first time. I remember being grateful that I was not under 17, because at the time, youths 16 or younger were unable to purchase emergency contraception from their local pharmacy without the permission of a parent or legal guardian and a prescription. But I did not think deeper than my personal stake in the issue. At least I wasn’t 16. My age saved me.
The fact that until recently, access to all emergency contraceptives was limited by age meant that the legislators dare not delve any deeper to confront the issues that prevented us from acknowledging girls are human beings who can contribute substantially to the world’s discussions. This leaves girls susceptible to other issues that would keep them down, such as the socialization of femininity, gender parity in the workplace, and the prevalence of sexual harassment toward women. After all, if we don’t give space to girls for confronting the regulation of their physical bodies, what space is there for girls to confront the internal regulation or her psyche?
Thanks to all of the hard work from activists and advocates alike, reproductive rights have incurred a recent win: no longer is the Morning-After Pill hidden behind the pharmacy counter, no longer does it require a 17 year-old to have a prescription. Now, at any given pharmacy in the U.S., you can successfully find this emergency contraceptive between the pregnancy tests and the condoms. Contrary to popular anti-choice belief, this does not promote promiscuous behavior.
Instead, it promotes girls (and all youth) making informed decisions regarding their own sexual health. And trusting girls to ensure their own health (and giving them access to the crucial information) is the best step toward dismantling the patriarchy we live within.