We’re not kidding when we talk about “alternative facts” in the world of reproductive healthcare. For most of us who take an interest in the amount of anti-abortion bills being passed in state and federal legislatures (it’s hard to keep track of them all, there are literally hundreds that have been proposed and passed over the past few years) you will be familiar with how the anti-choice movement is adept at using fact-free arguments to make their case. But if you thought this was something specific to the abortion issue, think again.
One thing a lot of pro choice and pro life advocates agree on, is the use of birth control as a preventative measure against unintended pregnancy and an effective tool in reducing abortion. Yet there are extremists who won’t even acknowledge, and while we’d like to ignore those people, it’s getting harder and harder to do under the current Trump administration. Just recently it was announced he had appointed an anti-abortion activist to head up the family planning program for low-income women under the Dept. of Health and Human Services. The catch? She’s also opposed to birth control.
Teresa Manning, who has ties with the National Right to Life Committee and Family Research Council, once stated in an interview with NPR, “Of course, contraception doesn’t work”. Let’s be clear, this is a MAJOR alternative fact, because endless data shows that in fact birth control does work, and is undoubtedly one of the most effective reproductive health tools available to women today, which many in the medical and scientific community, (i.e, people who like facts) agree on.
Two experiments which ran from 2007-2011 in St. Louis, and from 2009-2013 in Colorado gave out IUDs to low-income women and teens, and found the reduction in teen pregnancies and abortions to be significant. But the program was discontinued on both accounts, despite the success.
“Unfortunately, family planning is a political issue and science and data gets trumped by ideology,” said Greta Klingler, who works for the Colorado department of public health and environment. This is where an app like NURX becomes pivotal. In an increasingly hostile and Handmaid’s Tale-ish world of reproductive rights, they are fast becoming a company that is able to circumvent traditional and slow methods of accessing birth control, while offering all the essential services from licensed medical professionals and doctors.
We spoke to Dr. Jessica Knox, who is the San Francisco-based full-time doctor on staff for NURX, as well as a NURX user, Anastacia Barbosa, to give readers a perspective on how access to birth control should not be a matter of politics and ideology, but healthcare.
Dr. Knox became involved with NURX immediately after her residency in March 2015 as she was interested in preventative medicine and public health. She is joined by 4 other part-time physicians and 1 part-time nurse practitioner who consult with each patient when they download the app and request the medication. They offer consultation via phone and follow up with patients/users, the same way a regular GP would, except there are no excessive wait times and hurdles to get through to access birth control. Dr. Knox explained why that whole “access” issue is key here.
“When we give women the opportunity to plan their families, it helps society at large. Giving women this tool just makes sense,” she said.
For those concerned about the absence of seeing a doctor in person, Dr. Knox offers some crucial information.
“You can still go to your regular GP and we do encourage that wherever necessary, but actually the CDC guidelines state you don’t need a physical exam to prescribe birth control. The US is one of the only countries which still requires a prescription for birth control,” she said.
As for the popular conservative argument against providing teens and youth with birth control, Dr. Knox’s shared her insight as a medical professional.
“Look, people are going to have sex. And if we put barriers in place for them to get contraceptives, they may become afraid of even going to their own doctor to get preventative healthcare, which can lead to unintended outcomes,” she said.
NURX is currently available in 12 states and looking to expand. In a time when women are worried about politicians in Washington D.C and at state levels taking away funding and subsidies for a vital healthcare tool, when women are worried they won’t be able to afford the co-pays to keep taking birth control, NURX is in a league of its own and not beholden to the traditional health insurance system. The most affordable pack of birth control starts at $15, and unlike brick and mortar clinics, getting contraceptives in the 12 states it is available doesn’t depend on your zip code.
That’s the beauty of this telemedicine service, which makes access more convenient from anywhere. It is far more efficient and frees up the ER system and physician’s room for greater needs, which was one of the core reasons for creating this app, according to co-founder Hans Gangeskar. But if you still need more convincing about how NURX is filling in the gap and providing an essential preventive healthcare service for patients, all you have to do is ask one of them. We did exactly that, and asked Chicago-based user Anastacia Barbosa about her experience with the app so far.
She originally learned about NURX through social media and found it to be a stress-free way to get her birth control prescription while balancing the time demands of her job. Anastacia also shared some of her interaction with Dr. Jessica Knox.
“I was able to get input on how birth control was going to affect my co-current prescriptions as well as my lifestyle choices and sex life activity. I was able to ask questions if I felt my period was acting up or if I had birth control inquiries,” she said.
Anastacia explained how her upbringing in a strict Latino Catholic family and attendance at a Catholic school played a role in seeking out a service like NURX.
“I’d say my sex education was in short, scare tactics. Everything from ‘your future husband will not treasure you if you have premarital sex’ to ‘birth control is going to give you cancer’, ‘condoms will reduce your future fertility’, and ‘you are going to get HPV and give it to your kids’, and ‘you only get HPV from sleeping with multiple men’. And that was just school. My family never really talked about sex. It wasn’t talked about and just never acknowledged in any form. I do remember my mom was hesitant to talk to me when I mentioned I was starting to take birth control (at 20 years old). It was the ‘let’s not talk about it out loud’ kinda deal,” she recalled.
If you’re looking for the root of “alternative facts” when it comes to sexual health, sex education curriculum, especially abstinence-only methods, are a great place to start. Using scare tactics to shame mostly female) youth about their bodies does not lead to a healthy decision-making ability. In fact, it leads into much wider and more harmful ideas about women’s bodies that can be seen in national policy, education, and cultural pressures. There is a lot of danger in not empowering women with the medical facts about their bodies, and instead focusing on morality arguments, Anastacia says.
“It is internalized misogyny which determines that every decision a women makes with her body is somehow tied to a moral string. Everything from how she grooms her bikini area (e.g., if you let it grow you’re a prude, if you shave it all off you’re a slut) to if she masturbates (good girls do not touch themselves, girls who touch themselves are insatiable). Men are taught to groom for health, masturbate for health. There’s almost no moral ties to this mainly because men are ingrained with the idea that they’re the dominant/stronger sex. Nothing they do is wrong, it’s only “natural” or “evolutionary”, but women are the weaker sex so everything they do has to do with fertility, sexuality, and reproduction,” she said.
Similar to her own experience of not growing up in an environment where she felt comfortable talking about birth control or sexual health, Anastacia says those considering using NURX can expect to communicate with healthcare professionals who genuinely care about what patients tell them, and who listen to them in order to provide the best service.
“Someone who’s going to listen to what you’re expecting from birth control, what you’re scared of when it comes to birth control, and what’s going to best suit the lifestyle you lead. There’s no pressure to choose a type or even to follow through with Birth Control. It’s all about comfort and making sure the right decision is being made with the right counsel,” she said.
She does stress to any concerned parents that going to get pap screenings and STD tests from a regular GP is still important and shouldn’t be neglected.
“NURX is about preventative healthcare. It’s about making sure that their children are covered. There’s also on-demand help for questions and the ability to change the type of birth control whenever if there’s any concern or issues,” she said.
We want to see a generation of youth being equipped with the right knowledge about their bodies, and having access to important, preventative reproductive healthcare. To find out more about NURX, consult with one of their doctors, or simply have your questions answered about birth control, visit the website today.
Hear from NURX founder Hans Gangeskar and Dr. Jessica Knox in the ‘Vice News Tonight’ clip below (from 13:00-17:54):