Rectal exams for men and abortion restrictions for women are not the same thing

2 Feb

It always comes up. Usually the argument goes as follows: why do men get Viagra paid for by their health insurance, while women are stuck paying out of pocket for birth control? Senator Janet Howell’s recent proposal to require a rectal exam and cardiac stress test prior to offering prescriptions for erectile dysfunction drugs in order to highlight the invasiveness and over-reach of a Virginia law that proposes to require a woman undergo and view an ultrasound is the most recent and creative iteration of this theme.

While I heartily agree that a state legislature has no place telling doctors which procedures their patients must undergo, and I recognize that the Senator is trying to make a point in a political theater, I think in the end making comparisons such as these do us a disservice. They minimize what a pregnancy truly means in the life of a woman.

Sexual dysfunction is a serious matter that can affect a man’s emotional and sexual well-being in important ways. However, pregnancy affects women in a more profound way. It affects not only a woman’s emotional and sexual well-being, but also her general physical health, and her financial health. If she continues the pregnancy and gives birth it affects every minute of her day for many years to come.

The idea that medical treatment for male sexual dysfunction is a fair analogy to medical treatment to prevent or treat undesired pregnancy has always bothered me. It minimizes the profound impact pregnancy has on women’s lives. I can’t think of any event common to the male experience that compares. And perhaps that is exactly the problem.


5 Responses to “Rectal exams for men and abortion restrictions for women are not the same thing”

  1. Beth February 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    While I completely agree, I think the good senator was alluding to the invasive qualities of the procedures not the actual procedures.

    Does that make sense? /slinksaway

  2. Steph L February 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    I think you completely misunderstood what the senator was getting at. Try and realize she wasn’t actually advocating that men receive unnecessary medical procedures. There was no way the amendment was every going to pass, and she knew that. That the whole point of this was to try to offer people some perspective by flipping the equation and showing what an equivalent political attack on men would look like by proposing an uncessary, invasive procedure.
    Think Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”

    Personally, I think it was a BRILLIANT move by the Senator.

  3. Robin February 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Well said. There is no comparison.

  4. NYCprochoiceMD February 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    I know the senator wasn’t actually advocating for men to get unnecessary testing. As I stated, it’s political theater. I’m a doctor, not a politician, and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert in political tactics. And I actually think it’s a better comparison than the typical “viagra is covered/ birth control isn’t” argument, because it does force people to think about how wrong it is to require physicians to do medically unnecessary invasive procedures. But I also am not sure this kind of tit-for-tat comparison is ultimately helpful to us, because it prevents us from talking about what’s really at stake for women: the future course of their lives.

    That said, part of me certainly cheered when I read about what she had done – because I’m the first to admit that the approaches the pro-choice movement has been using have not been particularly successful.

  5. Synonymous February 4, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    I agree that the comparison is pretty far off being adequate, but when it comes to abortion, surely gender should have nothing to do with it. The argument about abortion in America is largely religious as far as I understand. Laws should not be based on religious doctrine in my opinion, I believe politics and legislation should be secular. There are religious people who don’t believe in treating medical conditions like cancer, many not allowing their own children medical treatment that would save their lives. If such beliefs were allowed to affect legislation, then nobody could have their malignant tumours surgically removed legally.

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