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hacking fertility

I was deeply disturbed by a recent article in The New York Times Magazine – Contra-Contraception. The article details the increasing backlash against, not just abortion, but all forms of birth control, even when used by married couples. Other people have analyzed the politics of this better than I can; I especially recommend Pandagon’s take on it here.

However, I’m thinking along a different line.

When I was in university I took a course called “reproductive physiology for public health educators”, or something like that. I’m so glad I took this class, and I highly recommend something similar to everyone, male or female.

The professor of the class was an elderly gentleman who had been an obstetrician both before and after Roe v. Wade, and had also worked for many years in rural South America. What I loved about him was his do-it-yourself attitude toward public health and contraception. My favorite memory from that class was our lesson about chemical abortifacients (e.g., RU-486). He told us all how to make RU-486 from commonly available drugs, and also about pennyroyal. He not only told us these things, he made us all write down and memorize his recipies, and promise to put our notes in a safe place, so afraid was he that the information would become lost. The medical school where he taught had recently stopped teaching med students how to perform abortions, and he was convinced we were seeing a return to a pre-Roe v. Wade environment, or worse.

I don’t want to downplay the real dangers associated with outlawing contraception, but I wonder if it would really be possible in this day and age? When does contraception cross the line to being acne medication? Or hormone therapy? And if abortion gets driven underground again, how long will it take before people start cooking up bathtub RU-486 with recipies they find on the internet? Will they also outlaw herbs like pennyroyal? And if so, how long before we see marijuana distribution networks being repurposed?

As with many things, this is mainly dangerous for the most vulnerable segments of society. Educated and affluent women will work around any contra-contraception laws by ordering birth control pills over the internet. It’s the young and the poor who will get trapped by their own fertility. This goes for men, too. I’m not the first to point it out, but it bears repeating: The last time abortion and birth control were illegal, paternity tests didn’t exist yet.

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