Young women voters have a lot to worry about this election cycle, from a flurry of anti-abortion messaging to diminishing access to reproductive services.
Just this month, in fact, Congress put the brakes on vital legislation that would fund efforts to prevent the spread of Zika because they’re arguing over birth control.
I have grown up in a generation of women who can take for granted our right to vote, work for money, own land, and not be treated as property—but I can never take for granted my right to choose what to do with my own body.
Like 58 percent of the women who use the pill, I rely primarily on birth control to treat many medical conditions. I have hormone-based migraines, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome, which puts me at a higher risk for a whole slew of other health issues—from cardiovascular disease to diabetes.
But I’m lucky. Birth control treats all three of my conditions where other methods have failed.
Millions of women who don’t have access to reproductive health services suffer from conditions like endometriosis, which creates intense acute pain due to scar tissue around the uterus and other reproductive organs.
Others are forced to miss work or school because of painful periods, holding many women and girls back from climbing the economic ladder.
Because I have access to an intrauterine device (IUD), a highly effective long-acting reversible contraception method, I don’t have to worry about shelling out money for a birth control pack, or irregularities in my menstrual cycle. I no longer spend days on end bent over in pain, sometimes unable to move, because of my period.
I’m also lucky because I’m not one of the 30 percent of female high-school dropouts who had to leave school because of an unintended pregnancy.
Politicians often view birth control, and reproductive healthcare in general, as a wedge issue. For them, just talking about abortion can be a potential career-breaker. But access to reproductive health informs every aspect of a woman’s daily life—from her career trajectory, to her educational opportunities, and overall well-being.
We must address women’s rights in a way that acknowledges the full impact of access to reproductive healthcare on every facet of a woman’s life.
Some members of Congress are eager to do so. For instance, the EACH Woman Act of 2015 sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee is the most comprehensive reproductive rights legislation to date. Over 100 Representatives have co-sponsored the bill.
It’s time for other members of Congress to wake up and recognize that reproductive rights are human rights.
A woman’s right to choose if and when she bears children is an integral part of her bodily autonomy, and thus her right to equal treatment under the law. If the government has the power to determine for a woman what she can or can’t do with her body, her right to education, to freedom, to privacy, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are all in jeopardy.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have access to birth control that’s covered by my health insurance, to attend a university that didn’t deny my coverage under religious exemption laws, and to work at a place that can’t fire me for having an abortion.
But in a United States that prides itself as a purveyor of free thought and champion of global democracy, my access to healthcare shouldn’t be a matter of luck.
Olivia Alperstein is the Communications and Policy Associate of Progressive Congress.