Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A win for natalism

Wouldn't it be great if the wealthier and/or more intelligent portion of America's young women started baby-making in their late teens or early twenties? It's time to get excited! Now that the price of birth control pills has skyrocketed on college campuses, Park Slope might lose out to some college town as the stroller-pushing capital of the Northeast.

Most annoying part of the article:

Not everyone is troubled by the price increases. Some people said they wondered why college students, many of whom manage to afford daily doses of coffee from Starbucks and downloads from iTunes, should have been given such discounted birth control to begin with [...]

So college students in America... drink coffee and spend 99 cents on a song every so often. Seeing as they are going nuts and buying everything in sight, they do not deserve to have any control over their wombs at a time in their lives when they have neither the time nor the income (nor, arguably, the wisdom) to raise children. Oh, and of course it's only women whose frivolous spending is really being discussed, since unless one is married and splitting all costs, it's typically the uterus-having individuals making the purchases on their own. And thanks to biology, it's always the woman who faces the physical consequences, whether abortion or childbirth. But to be fair, if these silly girls will spend $10 on lip gloss, they are old enough to face the responsibilities of motherhood.


Miss Self-Important said...

Rather than taking it to mean that college women don't deserve birth control, couldn't that be read to mean simply that women who do need birth control should be expected to prioritize its purchase over luxuries like coffee and music? That they should take responsibility for their own sexual behavior and health and not rely on other people to hand them their pills and prevent them from making bad decisions? Given that most college women are 18+, I don't think that's an absurd level of personal responsibility to ask of them, especially since they have already volunteered that they are mature enough to be engaging in the kind of behavior that can result in pregnancy in the first place.

Phoebe said...

This doesn't address the gender disparity--young men can get $50 a month worth of music and coffee while women are left forced to "prioritize," something women already must do once a month for other exciting and not-so-inexpensive drug-store purchases. Why do women need to bear the burden here more than what biology requires?

And as for the "mature enough" argument, I think it's only reasonable to ask this of 15-year-olds who wish to have sex. With adults, the rare few who do not are the exception, and given the existence of effective birth control and abortion, there's no reason a person must be prepared to raise a child before having sex. Plus--and this is where college comes into it--preventing childbirth pre-22 is not a luxury but a necessity.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, you could argue that women's partners should be the ones bearing the cost of the birth control then, but I doubt that would ever work in practice. It might not be socially fair that women should be more responsible for reproduction, but there is no getting around the biology (for now). The only way to balance the scales is abstinence, and no one is willing to accept that as a possibility anymore, which is, I think, extremely unfortunate. (The other scale-balancing alternative is surgical infertility, though again, that would weigh more heavily on women than men in the long run.) It seems to me that, in a situation where the injustice runs too deep for social policies to correct, it is up to women to shoulder the responsibility they have as wisely as possible rather than act irresponsibly in protest against the unfairness of the circumstances. Rather than expect the state to compensate women for every contingent expense of our dissimilarity to men (for example, the cost of tampons) in the name of absolute equality, we may just have to think of a way to live in the world that takes biological difference into social consideration.

If preventing childbirth in young mothers were a true necessity, then colleges should do much more to ensure it--single-sex dorms (or better yet, colleges), open-door policies in rooms, video monitoring, etc. The end goal would ultimately have to be enforcing abstinence, or mandating abortion when that fails. I assume this is not your idea of a desirable outcome? Although from the public good point of view, we may not generally want girls to get pregnant before they complete their education, we are obliged to give them significant leeway to make decisions and be prepared for the consequences.

It's perhaps unjust that women are left to shoulder more of the responsibility for reproduction, but given that unalterable fact (and of course, it's possible that technology will someday make it quite alterable, but whether that will be an improvement or a disaster is still unclear), it's not clear to me that they should not still be held responsible for their health and their choices. The article quotes some girl saying that because the price of birth control has gone up, “I do less because of this — less shopping, less going out to eat.” Frankly, I don't see the tragedy in that. Sex has consequences even when it doesn't result in pregnancy. There is no inalienable right to cheap, easy, and convenient sex. If going out one night less a month helps her see that in some basic way, then good. If she loves to go out that much, maybe she will need to sacrifice the sex for a while?

Phoebe said...

"It might not be socially fair that women should be more responsible for reproduction, but there is no getting around the biology (for now). The only way to balance the scales is abstinence, and no one is willing to accept that as a possibility anymore, which is, I think, extremely unfortunate."

I've addressed this, I think, in my comments to your post. Basically anything--insurance, say--that keeps the price of birth control low is a way around forcing women to pay for both their and their (always male, for these purposes) partners' enjoyment. (For the record I'd also like to see free or subsidized tampons--and condoms-- for the same reasons; lipstick and other voluntary girly purchases should not, of course, be subsidized).

As for abstinence... the Pill plus condom use accomplishes the same child-free, HIV-free result in the vast majority of cases. Pretending that this is not the case, and insisting that we must forever be reminded of the emotional consequences of sex by real physical risk, has disastrous consequences, creating great risk where only slight risk needs to exist. Even in a world of affordable birth-control and no STDs, I'd imagine that sex would continue to have emotional significance. But if not, do we really need to keep risks around for fear of allowing sex to get too insignificant?

Again, with abstinence, is the gender double-standard. No one reasonably expects adult men, gay or straight, to be abstinent, because they are supposed to have a physical need for sex. Women, on the other hand, are imagined to be indifferent enough to sex that we can weigh its pros and cons against the Frappuccino.

I'm generally in agreement about labeling anything that comes up in an article about how American college students spend disposable income a "first-world problem," but here I think that makes light of what is a genuinely serious problem for the individuals affected. Limiting access to birth control to teach college girls a lesson will lead to more abortions, which is no one's ideal.

kei said...

I am late in responding, but here are my pennies:

One issue with this recent increase in BC on college campuses is that you can blame different people involved in different ways for what has happened. You can start at the top and say it's the government's fault for making things complicated and "overlooking" college campus clincs, you can blame drug companies for, well, being companies, you can blame college campus health clinics for forcing patients to pay more money than they should/used to, you can blame university health insurance for not providing full coverage as they promise, or you can attack the women themselves and say various things: prioritize, abstain, stay at home and make babies, make your man pay for half, and so on.

As someone who has sat in on a graduate student union meeting with these specific concerns, it seems that part of the solution is knowing where to attack. And as students, you can only do so much. So what our union has decided is to complain to our health insurance, Campus Care. They claim that they provide full coverage, but they are in fact not doing that by making us pay more than we should for BC. And if one wants to fuss about what students (women) "should" pay for BC, one possible response is, "Well why was it $10 in June, and now $40? Why was it okay to make it cheap then, and not now?" This law change/effect isn't so much about ethical/moral/gender issues as it is about the bottom line. Health clinics are supposed to provide, well, health, but because they don't have monetary incentive to give us discounts, they stop giving us discounts. (Or something like that, I forget the logisitics.) They of course are free to complain to the state legislatures about this, and they should. As students, we can target what's directly above us in hopes of a ripple-effect.

In terms of what this means for women, I think it should be kept in mind that all kinds of women are affected by this change: both at the undergraduate and graduate level (insured by the schools involved). That means this includes those sorority or whatever-y girls who go out every night, the bookworm undergrads who have long-term relationships or not, the graduate students who are engaged/married, the graduate student looking to get engaged/married, the graduate student _not_ looking to get hitched. In other words, you have a huge range of women involved here, and things are unpredictable, so it's hard to say "Well this change shouldn't be a big deal: it's just sex vs. shopping." It isn't just sex vs. shopping/going out/"getting some" in all cases; sometimes, at the committed level, it's about family planning, too. Obviously, there's no easy final answer that covers all bases and makes everyone happy, but it doesn't seem right to just let this huge price increase go without a fight and just say "Well, deal with it and budget." And asking the male to pay half is awkward, even in a committed relationship. What if the BC is used for BC and regulating purposes? Do you make them pay a quarter of the total? These are both just temporary solutions and don't address the real issue.