Do you Believe in Reproductive Freedom?

The time is now – mums waiting for family planning services
An often-used phrase that one hears today is “reproductive freedom.” It’s most often used by those working for women’s access to contraceptives and abortion. New Feminists certainly don’t wish that women have no freedom to choose when or who they will marry and we also feel that the ability to plan one’s family-size is good. However, I feel we should question whether access to contraceptives and abortion actually gives women the reproductive freedom they desire.
The first thing that I notice in regards to reproductive freedom, is that it is so often only spoken about in regards to women’s freedom not to have children. To have a truly free choice, however, she must have the equal freedom to have children, and to have as many as she wants without pressure to limit. I question the current status of reproductive freedom in the West when so often women’s awe-inspiring capacity to bear and birth children is so often viewed as a liability.
When people, some of whom call themselves feminists, show outward hostility for women who have more children than whatever arbitrary limit others have set for them; when cities are increasingly set up to be less and less accommodating of families; when there are more and more spaces, previously open to all, being set up as child-free spaces (which typically means that many women will not be welcome either as it is women who are the majority of children’s caregivers); and when the general consensus of the culture is that our bodies and their reproductive capacities are burdensome, I wonder how many women are truly free to choose their family size. As it is women’s bodies that play the biggest role in the bringing forth of new persons into the world, I don’t see how this is anything but a misogynist attitude of disdain for our bodies and their abilities.
The above situations are only the more subtle messages that women receive in regards to our bodies. Though many continually fight for “access to contraceptives”, I rarely hear of any mention of the often coercive and exploitative abuses that occur from those selling or administering contraceptives and contraceptive devices. In the West, there is the usual practice of having women come to multiple appointments in order to remove an IUD. I personally know women who were talked out of removal by their doctors, and others who had to really stand up for themselves in order to have it removed.  In my line of work I have also heard accounts of absolute disrespect of doctors towards their patients who choose not to use artificial contraceptives. In other places in the world, women often receive worse treatment. They are demeaned and treated as stupid while they are subjected to coercive population control programs.  Some are tricked into taking contraceptives that they thought were vaccines. Mother Teresa told of how poor women in India would be taken off the street and forcibly sterilized, many without clean equipment or anesthesia. Even though an unscrupulous man can father several or even dozens of children at a time, several times more than any woman can parent at a time, population control programs and contraceptives are nearly always aimed at women. I feel this fact betrays the misogyny at the root of the contraceptive mentality. It is rooted in the acceptance that women’s bodies are defective and need to be improved upon.
In India, Mother Teresa and her religious sisters found a solution that helped the poor plan their family size and also one that protected them from government abuse. Rather than securing funding for contraceptives, clinics, and medical personnel, the sisters taught poor Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, Natural Family Planning. That is, they placed the knowledge of the fertility cycle into the hands of the women themselves. Furthermore, this solution did not require ongoing intervention, for once the women had this knowledge, it would serve them their whole reproductive lives. In this instance, the women were even saved from government abuse, because they would be spared forced sterilization if they carried a card saying that they used Natural Family Planning. In short, the sisters trusted and respected women enough to empower them with this knowledge. Even though the women they taught were very poor and often illiterate, the Ryder study, conducted on over 16,000 women, showed that they were able to use NFP with more than a 99% user effectiveness rate.1
A common complaint I hear about NFP is that couples who use it choose to take chances, having intercourse at times when they know there is a possibility that they are fertile. There are those who are opposed to NFP, not because they don’t believe it works, but because they feel that the couples who use it cannot be trusted. They are opposed to couples deciding that they are okay with taking a chance at pregnancy. As an NFP instructor myself, I am very careful not to insert myself where I don’t belong. I feel that no one has the right to tell a couple when they should or should not be trying to achieve a pregnancy. I tell my clients that it is my job to make sure they know the rules of NFP. Whether they follow those rules or not is up to them. If a couple has decided that they are okay with a pregnancy if one should occur, who is anyone to say that they don’t have a right to be making that choice? New Feminists believe that we can trust women. Women’s bodies are truly good and amazing and we can be trusted with the knowledge of how our awesome bodies work. We can be trusted to use this knowledge whether to achieve pregnancy or to avoid it, or even to decide that maybe we have some reasons to avoid, but we’ll take a chance because if we got pregnant, then we are okay with that too. New Feminists believe in real reproductive freedom, that is a freedom that is founded on a reverence for the reproductive capacity of all people. We believe in the reproductive freedom that would allow women to be free of medication and artificial devices aimed at incapacitating their normal functioning the majority of their reproductive years. We believe in the reproductive freedom of couples to choose when to limit or expand their family size with autonomy. We believe that Natural Family Planning has the ability to empower couples with the knowledge of their bodies and enhance their respect and reverence for themselves and their partner.
1. R.E. Ryder, “‘Natural Family Planning’: Effective Birth Control Supported by the Catholic Church,” British Medical Journal, 307 no.6906 (18 Sep 1993): 723-6 accessed Sept 27, 2013



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