What if one of the only things keeping a woman from going to college, becoming a doctor and contributing years of valuable research to help society was a tiny white pill? Since 1972, when prescription contraception was legalized for all American citizens, birth control has made a huge impact on the lives of women everywhere.
Birth control has given many women the power to control their destiny and plan their futures — on their own terms, at their own pace.
You would think the ability to plan your own future would be considered a natural human right — something along the lines of the “pursuit of happiness,” perhaps? Yet, it seems that only woman who can afford to pay the expensive co-pays or full retail price at their local pharmacy every month for a pack of birth control pills have this luxury. Who decided that having the option to go to school or get a job should be a luxury? Thousands of women are denied this right with unexpected or unplanned pregnancies. Many of them are young girls who will never have the opportunity to pursue higher education or have successful careers. Some are women who may have already graduated from college, but will never have the opportunity to advance in their careers because they had to sacrifice the necessary work experience or promotions early on in order to stay at home and raise their baby.
This raises another question: Why is it that the government mandates that there must be free public education for children K-12, but not daycare? What about the newborns and toddlers whose mothers cannot afford to send them to daycare? The average cost of daycare in the United States is $11,666 per year, with prices ranging from $3,582 to $18,773 a year, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. The expensive can become such a heavy burden that many mothers find it cheaper to just quit their jobs altogether.
This is an injustice. Society is denying these women the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their children. They are either forced to spend thousands of dollars a year on child care or stay at home and put five years of their lives on hold because there are no other affordable options. In five years, one could complete a bachelor’s degree, climb a few rungs up the corporate ladder or save up enough money to put a down payment on a new house.
Another common issue faced by parents is maternity leave. In the workforce, for both minimum wage employees and salary paid professionals, there is a lack of sympathy toward new parents who need a reasonable amount of time off to care for their newborn child. Notice that I say “parents,” because this includes fathers as well. Why is it that men are not given a reasonable amount of time off for paternity leave? Why is it expected that women must stay at home for a longer period of time than the father? The argument for breastfeeding aside (especially considering the fact that formula has grown in popularity), there is no reason that a father should not be able to take a reasonable paternity leave in order to care for his child. What if the mother has a more demanding, higher paying job than the father? These are all issues that need to be re-evaluated and considered given the major changes in our modern society.
Not only is providing free contraception a much cheaper alternative than spending the millions of dollars allotted by the government each year toward welfare to support what is a majority of single mothers, it is a solution that would benefit others as well. From a moral standpoint, it would allow more women to get ahead in life, which would eventually result in more leadership positions being held by women, more money being spent by women and therefore a better economy for everyone. This would be the “What’s in it for me?” answer you might be looking for. This isn’t some flawless solution, but it would be a step in the right direction on both economic and moral grounds.
These ideas are not meant to judge or trivialize the lifestyle choices of young mothers or stay-at-home moms. They are meant to represent the many who did not want this life, were merely not ready for it or wanted to wait until they had the means and experience to provide a better life for not only themselves but also their offspring. What I am saying is that lack of free contraception, not including day care as a part of the free public school system and denying necessary services to new parents is what is preventing many women from reaching their full potential and becoming the future doctors, CEOs or even just better prepared mothers in this world.
Danielle Gonzalez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in journalism and media studies. She is the managing editor of The Daily Targum.