I may have another post later, but for now, an article is going round about a doctor who refuses to prescribe birth control to his patients. There are two versions, one pretty well reported one in the Herald and another shorter one in Stuff’s Lifestyle section, because the decision to use a particular type of medicine is a lifestyle, not a decision about your health, financial means, employment situation, stability or emotional ability to commit to a child. There are some choice quotes from the doctor in both versions, such as how he won’t give the pill to women unless they are using it between pregnancies or have already had four children and thus realised their reproductive destiny. Instead he recommends the rhythm method, which is perfect because it’s got a huge failure rate, and does this for patients as young as sixteen. (He doesn’t prescribe condoms, either.) Legally, he has to instead refer patients to another doctor who will prescribe birth control, but the woman who brought this man to the media’s attention says that he was quite reluctant to do so and she had to stand up for herself pretty forcefully for him to give in.
There are a few facets to this. Firstly is the fact that doctors are authority figures that can be very difficult for people to argue with. Even grown ups who are pretty gutsy in other areas of their lives may be hesitant to stand their ground in a situation like this, especially considering the baggage society places on sex, especially for women. It’s pretty easy for someone to walk away from a doctor’s appointment feeling completely shamed, even if objectively they don’t believe the moral line the doctor’s been laying on them. (This is also a problem for LGBT, overweight patients, mental illness, etc.)
Secondly, this is different from a pharmacist refusing to fill a prescription, which is something that is also pretty shitty. Doctors appointments cost money – it doesn’t cost you to walk into a pharmacy and hand over a prescription. If you live in a city (which not everyone does, and in both situations this might be the only doctor or pharmacist within reasonable transport distance), it’s a lot easier to try a different pharmacy than to try a different doctor. Just yesterday we were discussing the costs of GP visits, after another article was published about the increasing numbers of people going to emergency departments for things that a GP ought to be responsible for. My doctor in Christchurch charged me about $45 a visit, with a community services card. Some low cost services are more like $15, but the pressure placed on them by the huge need means that they’re stretched beyond capacity and some may have to close. There are doctor’s clinics that will charge more than $70 for someone who isn’t actually enrolled. The cost of health insurance premiums that cover GP visits might not be worth it even if you go regularly, like I do. A lot of people simply cannot afford to try different doctors until they find one who’ll give them the prescription, and while they may well ask the receptionist at the later clinics before bothering to make the appointment (though this can be fraught too if you’ve just been made to feel like a massive whore for daring to have sex with your fiance while not being in a place where you’re ready to start having kids), they probably won’t think of it the first time, because we like to assume that New Zealand is a pretty progressive country.
Finally, the thing that most baffles me is why birth control is so fucking special. Aren’t doctors there specifically to thwart god’s will in the first place? Presumably he treats other medical conditions, right? What if it’s someone’s destiny to have crippling arthritis or terrible acne or a life-threatening disease? Why is it okay to save lives, but not to prevent them? Particularly because if someone finds they can’t get birth control and so chooses not to have sex, and doesn’t slip or anything, that seems like more of a problem than birth control. Birth control fails. I know tons of people who were conceived through at least one form of birth control, including me. If god really wanted me to get pregnant, I’m pretty sure the fact that I’m not having PIV sex with a fertile cis male and haven’t done so in about eight years is a hell of a lot more of a problem than the fact that I take birth control pills to avoid dealing with periods.