“Bodily autonomy,” or the right to govern one’s body, is at the heart of our movement to end sexual violence. As a movement, we strive to build a revolution on the simple concept that every person has the right to control what happens to their body, free from coercion or fear. This freedom should not be limited to the ability to accept or reject sexual experiences, rather, true bodily autonomy requires that an individual can make informed decisions about involvement in any experience: sexual, medical, or otherwise.
Contraceptives and other forms of pregnancy prevention have long been housed within the medical field, making it easy to forget the early social justice roots of the birth control movement. From inception, the birth control movement was fueled by women’s desire to control their destinies and their bodies. Birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger became infamous in the early 1900’s for her promotion of self-determination and female empowerment through the use of birth control methods. The idea that women would engage in sex for purposes other than reproduction contradicted social norms that informed laws that called for the imprisonment of Sanger and others who promoted medically accurate sex education.
One hundred years after Sanger founded an organization that would eventually be known as “Planned Parenthood,” access to birth control is still limited in the United States, and perhaps even more alarming, exposure to medically accurate information is still not a requirement in all schools. Why is birth control still controversial a century later? Why do we not require medically accurate information about reproduction? We know that simply educating adolescents has been associated with delayed sexual initiation and increased use of contraception. We know that exposure to this information is also correlated with a decrease in teen pregnancy and abortion. We cannot claim to be free if we cannot make decisions about when we reproduce, but we cannot make decisions about when we reproduce if we do not understand how our reproductive systems work.
Increasing access to birth control and medically accurate sex education is one of the most impactful humanitarian and economic interventions, as noted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Domestically and internationally, the benefits of providing birth control to women have been well documented:
- Increased quality of life and reduced maternal mortality rates for mothers and children of mothers who have access to contraceptives
- Increased access to career and educational opportunities
- Promoting economic growth for communities and financial stability
- Financial stability, in conjunction with addressing gender inequality, has been shown to decrease economic dependence on male partners, lowering a woman’s vulnerability to experiencing many forms of violence, including sexual and domestic violence
- Lastly, birth control has the potential to slow population growth and has been named as a tool in the battle against overpopulation
The United Nations considers contraceptive access to be a “human right.” Now more than ever, reproductive rights are under attack. Protections for birth control access are being eroded. This will disproportionately impact those who are poor or otherwise marginalized. Every young person should have the right to medically accurate information about reproduction, and thus, decisions about their futures. Failure to provide this information can severely alter the course of an individual’s life, or even prove fatal. The time to act to protect these rights is now, as birth control access is being actively threatened.
Reproductive rights organizations exist on the local, national, and international level. Suggestions for collaboration include the following:
National Organization for Women
For more information, you can view our SAAM toolkit “Reproductive Rights” section here, or view this informative video from the Gates Foundation.