Refuting Powers: Many Obstacles To Contraceptive Access

Kirsten Powers, the so-called feminist Democrat of Fox News, erased all doubt recently that she’s just a right-wing shill when she used the platform of The Daily Beast in an attempt to mainstream anti-choice arguments against contraception.  Powers, joining in the frenzy of hate towards Planned Parenthood, made a number of factual errors in her piece.  She only retracted one of her errors, because it regarded what year numbers she used were taken from.

But this retraction was mealy-mouthed, as she did not address the Big Lie of the piece: Powers argued that contraception access doesn’t reduce the abortion rate. Her claim that contraception doesn’t reduce and may in fact cause abortion was touted all over anti-choice websites, many who claim that contraception is a ruse designed to trick women into having sex and getting pregnant. Her claim is refuted here and here.  Pay special attention to how silly it is to argue that contraception doesn’t work by ignoring all the women who it worked for.  

To be fair to Powers, she never directly claims contraception doesn’t work if you use it correctly.  She simply insinuates that increased access doesn’t stop unwanted pregnancy, because she seems to believe there are no obstacles to access to contraceptive methods.  How it follows that taking away access is a good idea is not explained, but Powers is clear on one thing: she thinks there’s no reason whatsoever that anyone might interrupt regular use of contraception, outside of being irresponsible. She uses the fact that most women who have abortions have used contraception before to bolster this argument, though the fact that women go on and off contraception should indicate that their access is spotty at times.  

Well, I personally had an experience this week that refutes Powers’ implication that there are no barriers between modern women and contraception.  I was able to resolve this problem because of a number of privileges: I’m middle class, insured, able-bodied, and have a really flexible work schedule because I’m a professional writer.  (I will point out that Powers likely shares all my privileges.)  Being a pro-choice advocate also teaches a healthy distrust of authority.  Remove a single one of these privileges, and the odds are that I would have been forced to stop using birth control pills this month.  And going off pills means, at best, moving towards a less-effective means of contraception for many women (condoms, withdrawal), and in some cases with non-cooperative or abusive partners, not using any contraception at all. 

Here’s what happened: I moved recently from one part of Brooklyn to another, so I had to switch pharmacies. When I tried to make this switch, the pharmacy informed me that to make a permanent prescription transfer, the doctor would have to approve it.  I figured this would be no problem, and planned to pick up my pills later that day. I was leaving town in 120 hours, and figured I had given myself lots of time to get my pills.  Even in Powers’ fantasy world, taking more than 120 hours to get contraception should be considered an undue burden. 

I got a message from the doctor’s office an hour later.  The message was confusing and garbled: The woman said that I hadn’t had an annual since September, so I needed to come in if I wanted the pills.  This is March, and as far as I can tell, “annual” means “once a year,” which is what I said when I called them back, with only 118 hours to go until I had to leave town, with or without my pills. The receptionist took my number and said a nurse would call back. 

By the next morning, with only 97 hours to go, I was furious.  I called again, and wasn’t being nice about it this time.  (Being willing to be the squeaky wheel is often a function of privilege that not every woman has.)  I made note of my impending travel, and explained firmly that if I didn’t get a phone call in 45 minutes, I would be calling every half hour until this was resolved.  Meanwhile, I had already rearranged my work schedule, canceling some non-essential plans, because I had to resolve this.  Being able to rearrange work plans—I have to work all weekend to make up for lost time—is a privilege few women have.  The doctor’s office did call me back, but they were firm.  I was not allowed to transfer a prescription I already had, because my doctor was on maternity leave.  Instead, I would be forced to come in and get a brand new prescription.  The first available appointment?  9AM on Monday, which would be 26 hours from when I was supposed to be walking out of the apartment, bag in hand.

That was cutting it unacceptably close, so what I did then was decide to go to my old pharmacy, figuring they still had my prescription and could fill it as is.  I gambled correctly, but accessing my old pharmacy meant walking the two miles there and back, something that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was disabled, caught up in work obligations, or had child care needs, especially since it took a solid two hours during a work day to get it worked out. And if I did have to put it off resolving this until Monday, it would basically take the entire morning, between going to the doctor and going to a separate pharmacy, and going through the waiting periods.  Not everyone can bring their work to the waiting room of the doctor’s office like I can.

Needless to say, insurance makes all of these obstacles easier to surmount.  

These are unacceptably high requirements for uninterrupted access to contraception: Flexibility in scheduling, being empowered to self-advocate, being able to get around easily, and being able to afford the various expenses thrown in your way to get pills.  If you want to know why women are inconsistent with contraception, it’s because not everyone has all these privileges all the time.  Planned Parenthood grasps this reality, which is why they go out of their way to lower barriers, not only in terms of affordability, but also by trying not to give you the run-around like this.  Kirsten Powers would have you believe everyone who struggles with work schedules, child care or transportation, or funding is just stupid and lazy.  Don’t believe it. 

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  • brucechris

    Also.    When we decided to begin having sex, back in the 1960’s, first we researched birth control.  And we were both from the upper middle class, and we both had medical backgrounds.  And it was a couple of weeks between making this decision, in the back seat of a ’59 Chevy, until we had the contraception we needed.  

  • beenthere72

    There are so many comments there that make me sad. 


    Like this: 


    i am a 14 year old Catholic girl and i am against all forms of contraception, abortion, and simply non-marital sex. I am then 2nd of 7 children and my mother is 43 years old. My baby brother was born 6 months ago and is the cutest baby i have seen in my life and he is a blessing to my whole family. My parents did not “plan” the amount of kids they wanted and let God have control just the way it was meant to be from the very beginning of this world.

    I am proud to be a ‘freakin’ Catholic but i am saddened by the fact that wen i am in college there will be more senior citizens then teens in this world due to the abortions and birth control. Because of these the u.s. is not procreating enuf to to hold up a normal population which is decreasing rapidly. Planned Parenthood is DESTROYING the world one baby at a time wether u or i like it or not an for u to say tht it is a benefit is a COMPLETE LIE!!!!! my parents and i are full out PROLIFERS and i will not stop trying to outlaw abortion and get rid of PP until the day i die.

  • bj-survivor

    Why on earth does a woman who has been taking the pill for years need to have a gyn exam to get a refill? That just makes no sense in any way whatsoever, especially when one is and has been in a mutually monogamous relationship. It seems that women’s contraception is held hostage to the doctor’s bottom line.


    What a racket. I am so glad that I have an IUD and only have to see a doctor or NP every 10 years. I am married, mutually monogamous and have never had either an STD or an abnormal pap smear, so I only subject myself to the stirrups every 3 years. Were I using the pill, I would read my doctor the riot act if her office gave me this runaround bullshit.

  • bj-survivor

    Hopefully the little twit grows up and realizes that not everyone is her or wants to be like her and that not everyone even believes in an imaginary sky fairy and even those that do don’t necessarily believe in the same one she does. And that many of us are not suited to parenthood and it’s really a good thing that we’re not having children.


    I also really wish “pro-lifers” especially Catholic “pro-lifers” would take a look at the maternal/infant mortality and poverty statistics in “pro-life” Catholic countries. Or, better yet, move to one of them and leave the rest of us alone.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Even the doctor was confused, asking why I came in when I had no health problems and no indicators that it was time for a visit. I explained that apparently, their red tape requires that every little adjustment—such as changing pharmacies—is taken as a reason to force the patient to come in, with her contraception being held hostage if she doesn’t. Luckily, I loudly explained to everyone at the office that I would not be submitting to a pelvic exam to get a prescription that would have been uninterrupted if I hadn’t, you know, changed residences. I was able to keep my clothes on. I was subjected to an unnecessary blood pressure test, though when they started to move me towards the scale, they thought better of it, since I was so clearly pissed off.

    I’m going to change doctors, but again, this has to be noted that this will be another obstacle. Finding a good doctor isn’t easy, seriously.

  • carolyninthecity

    How infuriating!

    When I changed pharmacies because I moved, all I had to do was go on the pharmacy website, select a new location and enter my precription information and it was automatically tansfered. This was obviously the same pharmacy, but a different location (shoppers drug mart, I don’t know if you guys have them in the states, it’s a chain) but still, that’s crazy. My doctor didn’t know where I filled the prescription in the first place because she just gives me the paper and sends me on my merry way! It wouldn’t have even occured to me that I would need to tell her office and get a pap just for moving. What an inefficient system. 


  • carolyninthecity

    Is this comment from the original Kristen Powers article?

    I remember the type from highschool. All you can do is hope when she gets out into the “real world” she gets an education and doesn’t carry these beliefs into adulthood.  

  • amanda-marcotte

    Doctor’s offices just sign off on those transfers, and it’s not usually a thing, or so I thought. But this office got in a red tape nightmare of some sort. The specifics are probably unique enough to my situation, but the larger point is this: our medical system is overrun by intricate bureaucracies that make accessing all medical too much trouble. But it’s a particularly bad problem when it comes to any medication, from contraception to insulin, that requires continuous use in order to work properly. A lot of our health care expenses could be reduced by streamlining access for people who have a need for continuous medication.

    I blame our lack of universal health care in part. It’s not the only problem, but the intricate layer of insurance on top of everything else decentralizes the problem and reduces incentives to streamline the process. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that countries with single payer or something like it often make the doctor-to-pharmacy system easier, such as in Mexico where you can buy birth control pills over the counter. When one entity controls both the law and the expenses, it’s a lot easier to see and decide to act on expensive inefficiencies in the system, such as creating situations that require otherwise unnecessary doctor’s visits. Think, too, of England, which has moved the incentive structure from sick care to health care, where doctors get pay bonuses for getting patients to adopt healthy habits.

    This is all one reason Planned Parenthood should be a model and not, as Powers and her conservative benefactors wish, a pariah. One way they keep costs low is by keeping everything in house, which makes it super efficient. They could do better! IIRC, they would struggle with prescription transfers, too. But having the “pharmacy” in-house reduces the amount of hassle needed to get your pills.

  • princess-rot

    She’s fourteen, and for reasons of her age and based on her writing – which is as though she believes an oppressive and unempathic status quo is actually radical – she is obviously naieve and has not been encouraged to think differently from her parents and/or peers. I mean, since when has it been a countercultural act to be pro-forced-birth in America? She’ll either grow up once she realizes she’s been largely sheltered from the vagaries of adulthood, or develop the cognitive dissonance nescessary to believe “my abortion is the only moral abortion” and “I’m special and different, unlike those other sluts.”

  • princess-rot

    Actually, just to reply to myself because I’m bored at work and there’s not much going on, I think the best way for her to learn anything would be to see the difficulties her parents would have obviously faced – and hidden – from her and her brood of siblings, or those faced by other families.

  • beenthere72

    Yeah, if you scroll halfway down the page, you’ll see the comment:



    I was tempted to reply, but I prefer to hope that she’s able to open her mind when she goes to college.   Let’s hope she goes to college. 

  • bj-survivor

    I mean, since when has it been a countercultural act to be pro-forced-birth in America?


    Seriously. I roll my eyes at the forced-gestation “feminists” who seem to really think that they’re so edgy and progressive with their particular brand of females-as-breeding-livestock ideology. As if forced gestation, which relegates women to some class of citizenship somewhere below corpses and death row inmates, could ever be a feminist ideal.


    She’ll either grow up once she realizes she’s been largely sheltered from the vagaries of adulthood, or develop the cognitive dissonance nescessary to believe “my abortion is the only moral abortion” and “I’m special and different, unlike those other sluts.”


    I was thinking that, too. But there’s always hope, as a very recent post illustrates. So often, once the daughters of forced-birthers experience the real world and fall in love, they question and often reject their programming. I’ve seen it so often on boards dedicated to providing factual abortion information and support for whatever decision with which a woman is struggling. Time and again, those young women who are used to heavy-handed judgments and slut-shaming are amazed at and grateful for the nonjudgmental and supportive environment. It’s really a beautiful thing.

  • beenthere72

    OMFG.  I’m raging right now over a similar issue.   We went to pick up my step daughter’s birth control refill this past weekend and it turned out the prescription needed renewing.   I reminded my husband to call her doctor and after 2 days of him forgetting, he finally gave me the number to call her myself.    The recorded instructions for renewing a prescription recommend calling the pharmacy and having them fax the request.  So I then call my local CVS and they tell me that they’ve already faxed the doctor’s office 3 times and have received no response.  So I call the doctor’s office again (and mind you this is while I’m at work), and they say they’ll look into it and call me back and THERE’S A CHANCE SHE’LL HAVE TO COME IN FOR A QUICK CHECKUP WITH A NURSE.    WTF.    ‘Oh, it’s only a quick visit with a nurse’ – um yeah, to an office that’s in the opposite direction of both my work and her school.    There is nothing quick about that visit and I do not have the luxury of taking any time off work this week.