Sitting in my car in silence, I stared out in front of me. 40 minutes later, and I was finally at the closest open Planned Parenthood. I had friends say that this was where they got their prescription for birth control without their parents finding out. It was supposed to be easy. And yet, I couldn’t help but hear the whispers of monsters past: “You disgust me.” I clenched my fists and squeezed my eyes shut. Stop that. I don’t think like that anymore. Sharply inhaling, I put my head up and stepped out into the near-empty parking lot to only hear the shrieks of white men calling out murder behind me. And at that moment, I stood there paralyzed and at a loss. What was wrong with me and how could I be so selfish?
This summer, I tried to obtain a prescription for birth control. To say that it was difficult is an understatement. No. It was an absolutely terrible experience that I would never wish upon anyone. I still don’t understand why it was so hard, but I am done believing that the barriers existed because there was something wrong with me. Here are the issues I had to deal with this summer while trying to get a simple birth control prescription:
I decided I wanted to get a prescription the weekend I went home to eliminate the transportation barriers that would have existed at UCLA. Because of the cultural stigma surrounding sex within South Asian households, I decided to go to Planned Parenthood. Because most Planned Parenthoods are closed over the weekends, I had to travel over 40 minutes to the closest open one where I faced the Saturday morning picketers. Once there, I was told by Planned Parenthood that they didn’t have an opening till a few days later. By then, I would have been back at UCLA.
Frustrated that I had already traveled so far, I decided to go to my healthcare provider even at the expense of my parents finding out what exactly I was trying to do. After finally reaching there, I was told that they didn’t offer prescriptions over the weekends.
After realizing I could not obtain what I needed at home, I looked into finding both at UCLA’s pharmacy. It turns out that the pharmacy didn’t offer the pill without a prescription even though a recent California law had passed allow pharmacies to do just that. I would later find out that less than 11% provide the service because of fear of legal repercussions.
Given that ASHE (UCLA’s health center) sings on its website of its prioritization of women’s health, I truly believed that I could get a prescription for birth control from them. I was then told that just to meet with someone would cost me $75, a cost that would not even cover the pill itself. Accessible? Yes. Affordable? Far from.
UCLA completely failed me, so I decided to try Planned Parenthood again in Santa Monica, even if it meant missing class to make an appointment. After being on hold with them on the phone for over 30 minutes, I was told that the visit would cost me $275. I would later find out that had I said that I was under my parents’ insurance and that I didn’t want them finding out, the costs would have been significantly reduced. At that moment in time, however, I was not aware of this.
After scheduling flight times home that would guarantee that I could get an appointment on Friday before my health center closed, I was finally able to obtain a prescription from my home provider. The pharmacy they referred me to, however, ran out of the pill. ?!?! I would then have to find one that had it in stock.
So after weeks of trying to get a prescription, I was finally able to get it. Maybe my story is an anomaly. Perhaps there were alternative approaches that I could have used to make my experience easier. And I now know that there are organizations like Pandia Health that make it their mission to do just that. But I want to stress that it really should have not been that hard in the first place. At no point in the process should I have felt shamed for wanting to feel safe in my encounters. I should not have had to travel so far and wait so long for something that really should have been more accessible in the first place. And I definitely should have never felt that the institutions set up for reproductive health care services were in tandem working to conspire against me. Individually, many of these barriers seem surmountable. But the synergistic effect of even just a few can really cause a mental toll. I am living proof of it.
After driving away from Planned Parenthood, it took everything I had to keep tears from streaming down my face. I had felt a rush of empathy and compassion for so many less privileged women before me who had faced even more obstacles. These women had to risk everything and more just to take control of their lives. Yet, their struggles also gave me hope. I am very cognizant of how far we have to go. I am reminded at every moment by the current administration. But I continue to remain optimistic simply from how far we have come. And so is birth control as accessible as it should be? Most definitely not. But does that mean that we stop the fight? Not till we eliminate these barriers such that every woman can exercise control and choice over her body.
— Atreyi Mitra, UCLA class of 2021