There is a time and place to discuss politics and religion, the topics of which can be awkward and uncomfortable.  Lately, it seems, the subject of female contraception cannot be discussed without encompassing both.

The Contraception Debate

It is a sensitive topic with a litany of deep-rooted religious and political beliefs attached. Consequently, contraception and issues concerning women’s sexual health are highly controversial and debatable.  However, this is not anything new. Contraception has been a popular topic of debate amongst politicians for decades. Now, it is back in the hot seat.

It is safe to say this disputed subject begs the question: why are female reproductive issues getting so much attention?  Men everywhere have certainly taken notice, especially in the political world they dominate. Little by little, women feel they are slowly being stripped away of the power to do what they feel is best for their own bodies.

Have men intruded much too far into the personal lives of women and the health care issues that concern only women? A contraception debate that originally began over women’s sexual health, or more precisely raised its head when Catholic organizations were strong-armed by the federal government to provide birth control coverage, has now turned into a debate over women’s rights. It is as though we have taken a giant step backwards . . . to a time where women were not allowed to make decisions for themselves. Many would agree that women’s bodies, and couples’ bedrooms for that matter, are places of personal choice not to be dictated and regulated by bills and amendments. It has become a matter of American principle.

Tit for Tat

Several female lawmakers are taking action to level the playing field and equalize the sexual health debate. In our current year, women in Congress hold 17 percent of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate and 16.8 percent of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Not very encouraging, from a woman’s perspective. However, these female lawmakers could change the course of our history, reconstructing the way we look at female and male health care alike. Their mission: to inject some common sense into the lawmaking system.

Ohio State Senator Nina Turner recently proposed a bill, Senate Bill 307, which focuses on regulating men’s reproductive health issues. In order to legally obtain a prescription to treat erectile dysfunction (ED), men would have to jump through certain hoops, so to speak, to meet specific government requirements. A doctor would conduct a cardiac stress test to make sure the patient is in good cardiac health and the patient would be required to provide a notarized written statement from at least one sex partner noting erectile dysfunction symptoms in the last ninety days. In addition, men would also receive psychological counseling in order to obtain an erectile dysfunction prescription. Physicians would be required to inform men in writing of the risks involved in taking erectile dysfunction drugs and the patients would be required to sign a document acknowledging the risks, all similar to the complex procedures women must endure to receive prescriptions for the anti-abortion pill. Turner says, “It is crucial that we take the appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects of these drugs.”

Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy has even introduced an amendment that would require men to watch a graphic video about Viagra’s side effects before being able to receive a prescription for it. The side effects of erectile dysfunction medications can be numerous such as headaches, upset stomach, diarrhea and dizziness, to name a few.

Turner claims, “I care about the health of men as well, and I thought it only fair that we illustrate that and make sure that a man is fully informed of the risks involved in taking these drugs and also the alternatives such as natural remedies or also celibacy.” Is Turner’s proposed bill extreme? Possibly. Yet, Turner’s male colleagues are passing numerous bills and amendments that are slowly hindering women’s rights and infringing on their liberties, such as regulating access to abortion and birth control. One such bill proposes to ban physician assistants from placing or removing intrauterine devices. Another is Ohio’s House Bill 125, otherwise known as the “Heartbeat Bill” currently in the Senate. The Heartbeat Bill proposes to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected; and pregnancies from rape or incest would not be exempt. Turner claims the recent proposed bills regulating men’s health represent “a universal mindset across this country among women, especially those of us who are policymakers, to really point out the hypocrisy in terms of women’s equal access to health care.”

Turner is not the only female lawmaker taking a stand on this double standard. Women legislators in other states have been making similar efforts. Stacey Newman, Democratic state representative from Missouri, introduced a bill that would prohibit a vasectomy from being performed on a man unless it is to prevent substantial physical impairment or to save his life. This bill proposes that vasectomies would be required to be performed in an ambulatory surgery center, hospital or health facility licensed by the state Department of Health and Senior Services. Vasectomies are intended as a permanent means of birth control for men. Until now, the regulation of contraception has been almost entirely focused on female’s access to it. There is inequality in the way female contraception and male contraception is regulated.

Senator Turner recently told the Huffington Post “It’s ironic that when it comes to women’s health people think it’s a serious matter, but when it comes to a man, they think we’re joking. I don’t think any of my sister legislators are joking.” They aren’t joking. Men’s sexual health is a matter not to be taken lightly. And since men are less likely to seek out medical advice from professionals, the time has come for men’s sexual health issues to be brought to the forefront. They are just as deserving and require equal amounts of attention as women’s sexual health concerns. Hence, female lawmakers have stepped up to the plate and are politely returning the favor.

Or are they? Female lawmakers may be going too far traveling on the same road as their male counterparts. Where does it end?

As a result, the contraception debate has become a nasty gender game of tit for tat; males making decisions regarding female health issues and vice versa. Maybe the solution is for male and female lawmakers to stay in their own backyard, or bedroom for that matter. And as the saying goes, “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.” Err . . . gender, rather.

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