In the wake of Donald Trump's inauguration and the Women's March, which drew about 3.3 million people to demonstrate in more than 500 US cities, women across the country are questioning whether their rights to health care access will be challenged in the coming months.
More opportunities to celebrate women's health are on the horizon: African Women's Health and Rights Day (2/4), International Women's Day (3/8) and International Day of Action for Women's Health (5/28). Young women from around the world are speaking out on their personal experiences with reproductive and women's health. It is our hope that their stories will shed light on the non-negotiable need for safe, accessible and affordable health care for all women.
"While I am a Christian, and typically identify myself as conservative, I believe that people should have access to birth control. There are many different reasons that people take birth control and unique ways that these different medications work.
The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to offer reduced or free birth control for their clients. I don’t pay for someone else’s meds. If I have the right to take medications for whatever needs I have, others should have that ability as well. Life needs to be cared for at every stage."
"I'm on a different type of birth control called a Xulane Patch. I started using contraceptives in junior high to regulate my period and to control my insane cramps. Fast forward to college: I am still on the patch because you never know what could happen. I may not be in a relationship but the truth is that things happen, and I'm not going to be caught unprotected. I'm lucky enough to not have to pay for it, but others aren't that lucky. Without my patch, I lay on the floor with agonizingly painful cramps during my period week. Thank you Gregory Goodwin Pincus for inventing such a medicine."
"I’m not sexually active nor have I ever been. It could be because I cannot flirt to save my life or that I’m introverted as heck. Just because I’m not currently sexually active doesn’t mean that I won’t ever be. A while back I encountered a stupid boy, who swore that I wouldn’t get pregnant if it was my first time. Thank goodness, my mom is a nurse and educated me on sex. I’m an intelligent woman, but I can be stupid when it comes to guys. I’m not on any contraception currently. The cost is unknown to me. The pill is beneficial, it can help regulate periods. Contraception being more accessible has led to a decrease of unintended pregnancy."
"When I was 17 years old, I was raped. I came home that morning and was distraught, wasn’t sure what to do. I just needed my doctor. I needed help. I needed something. Immediately my doctor told me to get Plan B, and that the next best option if I was scared was to go on birth control. I told him that I couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t imagine what would happen if I got pregnant. Thankfully, my insurance covered it. I’m on birth control not only because I’m sexually active, but because I can’t afford to have a child right now. I couldn’t at 17 years old, and I can’t at 21 years old.
I’m on birth control because living in a world run by men, I cannot afford to be pretty, I cannot afford to be tempting. I am on birth control to protect myself."
"I was 16, and I was in love.
I was 16, and I was deathly afraid of two pink lines.
I was 16, and uninformed about my contraceptive options.
I was 16, and sitting in the waiting room, alone and scared.
I was 16, and filling out paperwork, texting my mom for answers I didn’t have.
I was 16, and the receptionist gave me a cup to fill.
I was 16, and the nurse asked me to pull down my pants.
I was 16, and I was on Depo-Provera, aka ‘the shot.’
I was 16, and I wasn’t myself.
I was 17, and I still wasn’t myself.
I was 17, and I was always tired.
I was 17, and I fell asleep at the wheel.
I was 17, and I crashed into the back of a car.
I was 17, and I went to the Women’s Health Center.
I was 17, and I was questioning if the shot could have caused this.
I was 17, and the doctor advised me to discontinue using the shot.
I was 17, and the doctor told me to lay off sex for a while.
I was 17, and I was scared.
I was 17, and I was still in love.
I was 17, and I was still afraid of those pink lines.
I was 17, and too scared to use birth control again.
I was 18, and I was still in love.
I was 18, and those pink lines made me cower in fear.
I was 18, and I was in the waiting room again.
I was 18, and this time, I wasn’t scared.
I was 18, and the paperwork was on file.
I was 18, and I had the answers I needed.
I was 18, and the receptionist gave me another cup to fill.
I was 18, and this time the nurse suggested Sprintec.
I was 18, and had an alarm set for 6 p.m. (EST) sharp.
I was 18, and ready.
I was 18, and I was myself again.
I am 18, and I am scared because I don’t have insurance.
I am 18, and I am still scared of those two pink lines.
I am 18, and I need the benefits of contraceptives.
I am 18, and I need my president to understand.
I am 18, and I don’t need a patriarch.
I am 18, and I don’t need a wall.
I am 18, and I need access to safe, affordable women’s services."
"When I was 5 years old, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia accompanied by a massive tumor that took home in my chest. I am so incredibly thankful to have been cancer free for the past 17 years, but because of all of the extremely toxic chemo my body had undergone, the majority of my eggs became casualties in order to save my life.
To this day, my doctors are not sure whether or not I will ever be able to conceive. Not knowing what's going on inside your own body is the worse type of pain I've ever known.
During the summer of 2015, my periods went from being regular to irregular to the point where my period didn't end for 3 months and I was practically hemorrhaging, and the only reason this nightmare of a summer came to an end is because my gynecologist and I decided to start me on birth control.
I am so thankful for my birth control for giving me my life back. It's an awful thing to feel like your body is betraying you, and I hope that you never have to go through it. However, if my insurance plan didn't cover the costs, I would never be able to afford my birth control on my own.
So please, President Trump, and those of you who support him in abolishing our reproductive rights as women, don't take the one thing away that millions of women rely on to protect their natural born right to own their bodies, and the one thing that keeps my body from turning on itself."
"I started taking the pill when I was 14. I had just gotten in my first real and sexual relationship, and all I knew was that I had no idea what I was really doing. Post-relationship, not only did the pill keep me from getting pregnant, but it helped me maintain a healthy weight, it cleared up my acne and it regulated my periods. I’ve been on birth control for eight years, and not once has it ever done more harm than it has good in my life."
"I lost my virginity when I was 20 years old, but I decided to consider birth control as a possible option for me years before. Not because I contemplated having sex - I knew I wasn't ready, but because with periods that lasted 11-15 days, hormones that made my personality almost unrecognizable, and pain that ate away at me so much I was constantly by the toilet just to relieve myself of some of it. I knew birth control would be the best thing for me, not because of simple pleasures but because of my health. Being on birth control today has made my periods last only four to five days. I can control my emotions, and I spend less time by the toilet throwing up, and more time living my life. Put aside the fact that some women aren't ready to have children (though it's important enough we shouldn't dismiss it), and consider their own personal health as well. We're doing the best we can, but it's okay to rely on help, help we genuinely don't want taken away from us."
"I got started on birth control not to prevent pregnancy but to prevent monthly hospital visits. When I was 17 years old, I was in the hospital vomiting for about 10 to 12 hours. A doctor walked in like they had for the last three years of my life and asked me to tell them my symptoms. When I told the ER doctor (who was not my normal doctor) she asked my parents if they have ever heard of Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. This is an extremely rare case where once the body is triggered with vomiting, it will not stop. It was unfortunate that have mine linked to my time of the month. So when it came, I would get debilitating cramps, migraine and the vomiting would follow suit. It stemmed from my brain not absorbing my hormones correctly.
After three years of not knowing, that doctor saved my life by giving me two choices: have a child (at 17) or get on birth control. Given that I was so young, I opted for birth control. It immediately balanced my hormones so that I can live a hospital-free life. However, I always paid for my birth control until recently, when mine got switched and I found out that birth control could be free. In my case, this isn't due to sexual activity; this is me paying $15 a month or paying $1,000-plus in ER bills. I think that most anyone can get $15 a month if they absolutely needed it, but I also believe our lives should be prioritized."
"As a woman, losing reproductive health care can be scary. It frightens me to see women tell other women to stop complaining, simply because they were born with certain rights others don't have. It is safe to say that my generation was born at a time when we haven’t fought for certain rights because we’ve had strong women in the past do it for us. But our time is now. Men should not be debating what rights we should have over our own body, our uterus, or our prenatal choices. Although I have chosen to stay away from birth control pills and shots, I still think it’s a great option for others. I know I myself will one day choose to use them as a contraception choice, so I don’t want to lose places like Planned Parenthood that help educate a lot of young girls about their options. I’ve also had to explain to my Catholic parents that I am pro-choice, and luckily, they agreed with all my points and understood why I feel strongly about this topic. Regardless of our own beliefs, we should never tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. The United States ranks at 28 for gender equality, and I think it’s time we did something about it."
"To me, birth control is a good thing. It should be used more and widely and should be cheaper for the general public to access. Being someone who considers themselves pro-life, birth control would reduce abortion rates and would, evidently, make people happier on both sides. Ideally, I believe the best birth control prevents fertilization seeing as how some consider a zygote a human, and life starts then for them. Overall, a greater accessibility of birth control would be the best for the general public morally, and practically."
"Birth control is not just about having sex without getting pregnant. Birth control, for many, is a way to regulate our bodies and our menstrual cycles when they work against us more than for us. The hormonal fluxes that happen during ovulation and causing women to get physically sick are insane, and that's not even including typical (and now completely ignored) symptoms like mood swings and cramps but also fever, nausea, and depression. Everyone’s body reacts differently, and it is important for every single woman to be able to take control over it. I got on it well before I started having sex just so that I could stop missing school every month and have a regular schedule. It is not an escape from responsibility, and it is not an excuse. It is responsibility. It is our way to be prepared and to ensure that our bodies are taken care of. And that is something everyone should be able to have."
"Birth control is usually used to fight unwanted pregnancies, but that is not all that is helpful for. For over a year now, I have taken the pill every day because I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disorder that is regulated by birth control pills.
While some of you might be “morally” against birth control, against anything related to pre-marital sex, I need the pill. I need it to regulate my period, I need to make sure my hormones are in check, and I need it to one day help me have kids if I want any.
I do not think that it should be any one person’s choice, or any man’s choice, when it comes to whether or not birth control is easily accessible and affordable. That is up to the person who wants to or needs to take it, not anyone else. It’s about time that we stop looking at birth control as less than any other medication."
Sami Allen - Odyssey Content Strategist
"When I was 13, my periods became so severe that I started going home from school for days at a time, like an entire week out of the month. That year was the year I got my first C on a report card, and the first year I felt like I truly failed myself academically, because I was literally missing that much class.
After months of agony, I was prescribed birth control for the first time. Because my condition was so insane, my gyno prescribed me a brand-name, which, even with insurance, cost us $30 a month. At the time, my mother would have done anything to stop my pain. Within just a few weeks, the birth control lessened my pain to a dull ache that I only felt the first day, cleared up my acne, leveled out my moods and even made me feel more energetic. For the most part, my body has been happy ever since.
I'm 23 now, and this April will mark 10 years on the pill, 10 years of going to the gynecologist for check-ups, 10 years of feeling sure that my reproductive health is in check. But I don't know what year 11 is going to look like anymore.
I don't know if my insurance will cover my birth control after Obamacare is repealed. I don't know what will happen if something horrible happens to me, like rape, and I become pregnant. I don't know what will happen if I no longer have access to non-private clinics to be tested for STDs. And you know what, that is complete bullshit."
Want to contribute to this story? E-mail Samantha Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org to let your voice be heard.