Women’s access to certain reproductive care options hangs in the balance, as a Texas judge is set to rule any day on the FDA’s decades-old authorization of mifepristone, one of the drugs used in medical abortions.
Even before what could be a dramatic setback for women seeking the medication to safely end a pregnancy, abortion restrictions spurred by the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade had been influencing women’s relationship to reproductive care. One survey found that nearly a quarter of young Hispanic women had changed their contraceptive plan as a result of the Court’s decision.
In light of legal and policy changes to women’s healthcare access, it may be no wonder that nearly half of young women in the United States report negative healthcare experiences or that those bad experiences often relate to reproductive care.
Kaelyn Page, 27, of Nashville, Tennessee, took the Court’s decision into account when she made her own reproductive health plans.
“As America entered the era of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, I quickly made an appointment with my gynecologist as the state of Tennessee was greatly impacted by the new restrictions,” Page said. “I knew that I didn’t want to have kids, and have for quite some time, and in the event of an accident, I did not want to be forced to carry a child per Tennessee laws.”
Page did research and told her doctor that she wanted to get tubal ligation, a surgical procedure that permanently prevents pregnancy. Page’s doctor wouldn’t do it.
“I was quickly shot down and because of my age and because ‘I could change my mind once I’m older,’” she said.
Though Page had already had a long-acting IUD and articulated that she no longer wanted to insert a device into her body, she said the doctor wouldn’t budge. She was stuck with her IUD or another temporary option—not by choice.
The whole experience left a bad taste for Page and she wound up having to seek care from other doctors.
“[It] further proves women’s access to safe prevention is not ideal,” Page said.
Care related to birth control also presented problems for Liz Fleming, 33, a marketer from North Carolina.
Fleming had decided to go off of her birth control pill, which she’d been taking at a low dosage for a decade to treat painful cramps associated with her period. She had increased the dosage when her cramps worsened on the recommendation of her previous doctor. Within a few months of starting the higher dosage, Fleming said she started experiencing heart palpitations and night sweats. Those symptoms seemed serious, so she stopped taking the pill cold turkey.
The symptoms persisted, so she felt she had to go to the doctor. But she hadn’t established a relationship with a primary care doctor in North Carolina yet, as she had only recently moved there for a job. She took the first appointment she could get with a local doctor.
As she expected, Fleming said she waited a long time in the waiting room. But what happened next—a five-minute appointment with an older female doctor—was what Fleming called “beyond weird.”
After explaining the situation, her symptoms, and her healthy lifestyle, Fleming said the doctor’s first question was if she had recently traveled to any developing countries. Fleming said she had not.
Nonetheless, the doctor concluded that Fleming’s symptoms sounded like Tuberculosis.
“I was speechless. This was the first, only, and immediate conclusion she landed on,” Fleming said. “I get having to rule stuff out but that felt so drastic.”
Though Fleming found the doctor’s conclusion—and the speed and apparent lack of evidence for it—to be strange, she had blood drawn before she left just to be sure. The results came back negative for Tuberculosis. She never received any follow up from the doctor’s office.
“Luckily, I found a more competent doctor who listened and considered my case more closely—taking the appropriate steps, checking in, ordering an EKG, helping me get to the root cause, which she determined was in fact a side effect of birth control,” Fleming said. “When I asked her about my previous encounter she too was shocked.”
Fleming said the heart palpitations eventually faded without any particular treatment, but to this day she still has night sweats.
“Looking back, I wish I pressed that first doctor harder or told someone else but I was so shocked I just wanted out of there,” Fleming said. “It really did open my eyes to how I approach healthcare, especially here in the South where things like birth control seem to be such tender topics.”