Speaking of Women's Rights: My Health Care is Not a Hobby:Legal Voice Interns Take to the Streets

Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Health Care is Not a Hobby:
Legal Voice Interns Take to the Streets

Legal Voice's interns, clockwise from top left:
Kelsey Martin, Margaret Hazuka, and Alyssa Sappenfield.  
By Margaret Hazuka
In the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, one has to wonder how we got here. How did we get to the point where “closely held corporations” can make completely false statements about birth control (no, IUDs do NOT cause abortion), and SCOTUS would rely on those statements to deny countless women the right to control their own health care choices? How is it that, in the 21st century, so much is misunderstood about birth control and the women who use it? We all remember Sandra Fluke’s run-in with Rush Limbaugh after admitting she used birth control. More recently, we witnessed the conservative backlash toward Rep. Lucy Flores after owning the fact that she just wasn’t ready for a child at age 16. We live in a culture that shames women for their reproductive choices, including using contraceptives that 99% of sexually active women (married and unmarried) currently use or have used, many for reasons wholly unrelated to preventing pregnancy.

There is a reason Sandra Fluke and Rep. Flores stand out for speaking up. Women are taught to be embarrassed and secretive about their sexuality and their reproductive decisions. We are afraid of the judgments that are associated with birth control, and afraid of men who think that women who use it must do so in order to sleep around.

Maybe if women are open about their contraceptive use, we can transform the conversation. It has worked before—breast cancer was largely stigmatized until survivors like Shirley Temple Black and Betty Ford began speaking up about their experiences and encouraging other women to take action. There was a culture shift. Women realized they were not alone, the reality grew harder to sweep under the rug, and the general public became much more accepting once they were forced to acknowledge the fact that someone close to them had or was at risk for breast cancer. Our cultural views of breast cancer changed by women speaking about their experiences publically.

By that measure, talking publically about birth control and the reasons we take it just might convince others that not all women who use contraceptives are sluts or prostitutes (sorry, Rush). At least that is what I and the other female interns from Legal Voice decided when discussing the odious Hobby Lobby decision one afternoon. So last weekend, the summer interns performed an experiment—in the same vein as the BuzzFeed post and Lena Dunham’s tweet, we made t-shirts announcing our personal reasons for using birth control to demonstrate that women shouldn't be ashamed or uncomfortable about their health care choices:
  • Kelsey: I use birth control because I don't want kids (yet)
  • Margaret: I use birth control because I am in charge of my own uterus
  • Alyssa: I use birth control to keep my PCOS in check

    (The back of each shirt said "My health care is NOT a hobby")
Our original intention was to provoke reactions (like those that occurred in response to the BuzzFeed post) and document them. We wandered through the Seattle tourist sites, and although no one directly confronted us, we got our fair share of stares that ranged from approving to reproachful. But upon reflection, what really informed the experience was not the reaction of others, but my reaction to them. At first, all I could focus on was other people. Did he notice? Did she grimace? Did that mother just avert her teenage daughter’s eyes? But once I started getting used to the attention, I had a realization—the point of speaking out isn’t just about making a statement to everyone else; it also serves as a way for us to take personal ownership of our choices, regardless of external pressure or judgment. It is about knowing that I shouldn’t be ashamed, even if media pundits, politicians, and employers insist otherwise. It was empowering to walk around Seattle knowing that my choices were my own, despite the attempts of business and politics to get in my way. And recognition of that empowerment will hopefully have the side effect of changing others’ minds. Once it is a mainstream part of our society to share our reproductive choices without shame, it will be impossible for others to ignore our voices.

Margaret is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising second-year student at Harvard Law School. She hopes to help shatter all of the glass ceilings and contribute to a future of gender equality.