In countries where there is a vocal, well-funded minority against contraception, stereotypes against women who use it abound.
In the United States, for example, women who use contraceptives–the overwhelming majority of women, by the way–have been derided as feckless, irresponsible, selfish, monstrously unnatural, man-hating, child-hating sluts who want to live parasitically off hard-working, moral-paragon taxpayers, and who automatically have abortions without a thought if they become unintentionally pregnant. Women who do not use contraceptives, on the other hand, are praised as spiritually superior, virtuous, man-loving, child-loving, fruitful Good Girls who know their ordained place in G*d’s Order of Things.
What a different, and much more flattering, much more accurate picture emerges from a new Guttmacher Institute study, Reasons for Contraception: Perspectives of US Women Seeking Care at Specialized Family Planning Clinics, which is forthcoming in the journal Contraception.
From a release about the study:
“Women value the ability to plan their childbearing, and view doing so as critical to being able to achieve their life goals,” says study author Laura Lindberg. “They need continued access to a wide range of contraceptives so they can plan their families and determine when they are ready to have children.”
Few studies in the United States have asked women directly why they use contraception and what benefits they expect or have achieved from its use. To fill this gap, the authors surveyed 2,094 women receiving services at 22 family planning clinics nationwide.
The majority of participants reported that contraception has had a significant impact on their lives, allowing them to take better care of themselves or their families (63%), support themselves financially (56%), complete their education (51%), or keep or get a job (50%).
When asked why they are seeking contraceptive services now, women expressed concerns about the consequences of an unintended pregnancy on their families’ and their own lives. The single most frequently cited reason for using contraception was that women could not afford to take care of a baby at that time (65%). Nearly one in four women reported that they or their partners were unemployed, which was a very important reason for their contraceptive use. Among women with children, nearly all reported that their desire to care for their current children was a reason for contraceptive use.
Many women reported interrelated reasons for using contraception, suggesting that the complexities of women’s lives influence their decision to use contraception and their choice of method. Other reasons for using contraception, reported by a majority of respondents, include not being ready to have children (63%), feeling that using birth control gives them better control over their lives (60%) and wanting to wait until their lives are more stable to have a baby (60%).
The release also includes this commentary.
“Notably, the reasons women give for using contraception are similar to the reasons they give for seeking an abortion,” according to Lawrence B. Finer, author of a previous Guttmacher study on that topic. “This means we should see access to abortion in the broader context of women’s lives and their efforts to avoid unplanned childbearing, in light of its potential consequences for them and their families.”
What does this study mean from an All Our Lives sort of perspective? For one, it fits well with what we already know experientially about the critical reasons why women need and want access to the full range of pregnancy prevention methods. Reasons that have nothing to do with the abovementioned belittling stereotypes.
For another, any serious effort to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions must include expanded access to the full range of methods and understanding and alleviation of any problems that might hinder their effectiveness.
We do not advocate this course because we equate contraception with abortion, let alone believe the hype about some foreordained, inevitable “contraceptive mentality.” We advocate it because it works best in the real world, honors most women’s preferences to avert rather than interrupt unintended pregnancies, and does not involve the taking of prenatal lives. In other words, it evinces the most respect for human beings and universal human rights.
For yet another–the study findings call into question the sharp division between women who use contraception and those who do not. All Our Lives has long questioned this as just another brutal variant on the sundering of womankind into Madonnas and Whores. We assert the right of all women to use/not use any particular method of pregnancy prevention in accordance with their own preferences, values, and circumstances.
Thanks, Cristina Page, for bringing the Guttmacher study to our attention.