Birth Control's Invisible Mommy Majority

Carefree singletons aren't the only ones who need contraceptives

| November 23, 2006

Check out some birth control ads for popular methods like the Pill or the Patch, and it seems the women touting these products are young gals on the go, untethered to kids. But what about the moms, asks Tracy Mayor in a piece for Brain, Child. Mayor considers herself the perfect audience for a birth control marketing campaign: educated, employed, household decision-maker, and sexually active. Yet, in the flood of products geared toward her, contraception is suspiciously absent.

Mayor argues that pharmaceutical companies' marketing misfire is emblematic of a larger social misunderstanding of the birth control needs of mothers. She insists that the challenges of childrearing make mothers 'the most motivated users of birth control,' noting that the original champion of contraception, Margaret Sanger, sought distribution of birth control as relief for 'sick, harassed, broken mothers.' This need is particularly evident when it comes to emergency contraception, Mayor writes. While it's generally pitched as a last-ditch option for 'Sex-in-the-City types,' mothers stand to benefit hugely from its availability. Consider, Mayor says, that 21 percent of mothers describe their last birth as 'mistimed,' and an estimated 60 percent of women who have had an abortion are already mothers.

Despite Mayor's criticisms of the birth control industry, she notes that it's also alarmingly clear that there might not be much of an industry to critique in the future. Some states are moving to ban abortion and quell emergency contraception -- measures that, if successful, could jeopardize other reproductive rights such as birth control. It's this assessment that leads Mayor to the conclusion that it's not just drug companies that need to start paying more attention to mothers' birth control needs: It's time for mothers themselves, perhaps long since removed from their activism days, to rejoin the fight for reproductive rights. 'I started out wondering why mothers don't have better birth control,' she writes, 'and wound up thankful we have any at all.' -- Rachel Anderson

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