Women and Sterilization: Why are Young Women Still Being Denied Tubal Ligation?

It’s My Body, So Why Not My Rules?

Graphic Caroline Tran

What does a doctor who refuses to help me obtain a tubal ligation—a sterilizing procedure to seal the fallopian tubes—an anti-abortionist, and the early inventors of contraception have in common?

The illusion of giving women better choices, the saviour complex, the undermining of women’s right and ability to make their own choices, and the ideas regarding who should and shouldn’t have children.

Did I just sound harsh? Probably. There are some similarities I’d like to point out… so hear me out.

I am an adult woman of 23 years old. Despite some struggles with mental health, I am still considered mentally sound enough to make my own medical, reproductive and financial decisions without the need for a power-of-attorney.

This gives me a few legal and civil rights that come with my ripe adulthood.

Some of those rights, choices and privileges I’ve been able to stash up on until now include: my right to vote and thus have a say in the running of my municipality, province, and country. I’m even technically allowed to run for office. I am of legal age to consent to sex, produce sexual content, obtain contraception and have an abortion.

God forbid, however, a woman decides she never wants to give birth. They would rather trust me more with a blatant life or death choice than a reproductive choice. Do they prefer I get cancer than not produce children? Why is no one standing in the way of me smoking? I’ve seen many pregnant women who continue smoking—the doctors can’t stop them from doing it. But they can stop me from getting a tubal ligation.

There are many choices society can trust me to make, and I have to bear full responsibility for the consequences of those decisions. Some decisions I need informed consent to make, for my own good, and that’s fine. Ultimately, it’s helping me make the right choice, either for myself, for my body, my life, or my future.

The final choice I’ll raise is the big one: having a child. If I get pregnant, no matter what my socio-economic situation, no matter my life situation, if I choose to keep the child, no one could really stop me. It would be my fundamental right to choose to be a mother, even if I’d clearly be a sub-par one given where I am in life right now.

I’ve seen people in my own family and surroundings who are in very bad places in life having kids and those kids will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives. Maybe they’re not being abused but they’re being deprived of a proper family situation because the parents can’t see past their desire to have a kid right away.

Is it my place to decide whether they should or shouldn’t have kids? No. A doctor? Only if they feel the child will be neglected or abused. Even then, they can’t force someone not to have a child, they can simply alert to have the children removed from bad situations. If they then cannot force someone to not have kids who wants kids, why are they preventing people who never want kids from making the choice of not having kids?

“You might argue that birth control, abstinence, condoms and abortion are available. I’m going to call foul. The whole point is that I get to choose what happens to my body.”

You might argue that birth control, abstinence, condoms and abortion are available. I’m going to call foul. The whole point is that I should get to choose what happens to my body.

With birth control, I’ve tried nearly every kind and suffered awful adverse side effects and no longer want any. I’m sick of feeling like a human guinea pig and having my physical and mental health suffer in consequence. Abstinence? Go be a priest or a nun yourself, then. Finally, abortion. I stand by everyone’s right to abortion as fundamental—but that doesn’t mean I want to have one.

While a very simple procedure, the Christian guilt would be strong—not on my part as I do not believe abortion is murder. However I know beyond a shadow of a doubt some close to me would consider me a murderer. Have I tried to argue? I firmly stand by any woman’s right to an abortion for any reason because I trust that I cannot decide for her and her situation. I just know the toll it would have on me, my mental health and the strain it would cause on my family, and the possible alienation it could generate from them. So abortion isn’t really on the table for me and my choices, it’s a worst-case-senario resort.

Not everyone can tolerate condoms. Some get reactions to the lubricant, some people get rashes or allergic or other adverse reactions to latex. Non-latex ones are hard to come by and feel weird or are sometimes more expensive.

In the absence of those options, what’s to be done? Let’s say I choose abstinence, I’d stay celibate for life? Even if I get married, the only guys I’d ever consider are guys who don’t want kids. Am I to sit at the kitchen table across from him every night and have imagination-sex? Frolic like 14-year-olds until we die? Pull-out-and-pray? Live in fear of squalling children? Absurd.

I would change my mind if I met the right guy, as a doctor once said to me in justifying why she didn’t feel comfortable referring younger patients for this. The nurse at the same clinic said she had three kids, is in her late twenties and her doctor pushed her to get an IUD by refusing to refer her for a tubal ligation. I don’t think that doctor has ever met a millennial man. The craft-beer obsessions and lumber-sexual beards are birth control in themselves. There is no economic chance in hell I would want to have kids and then depend on a spouse to help me raise those kids in this day and age.

In a world of Tinder, Instagram and infinite choice I need to be ready to divorce at any time and kids hinder that.

I believe in personal freedom: life, liberty, and the pursuit of my own happiness. I cannot bear the feeling of being trapped. Everything in my life can be readily changed at any time. If I hate my job, I can leave and find a new one. If I hate my class, I can drop it. If I hate my program, I can change it. If I hate school, I can drop out. If I’m not happy with a friendship, I can cease the friendship. The same is true with a relationship and marriage. In fact, nothing in life is permanent except a child. When I’m 45, if I end up regretting not having a child, but managed to live out all my dreams by then because I didn’t have a kid—it’s still worth it.

It’s worth it because I did everything I wanted, and chose my career instead of a family, which totally aligns with who I am and the future I want. If the regret was truly so profound, I could then adopt, get a surrogate or foster some kids.

There is greater risk in having kids you regret, than not having kids and regretting that. There’s a misconception that people don’t regret having kids, because it’s not socially acceptable to say so. Women who speak out about it get shut down and shamed into silence. One such woman I spoke to said she received death threats.

The inextricability of women and motherhood is reductionist, dehumanizing to women who don’t have kids, gendered, sexist, and ultimately a tool of the patriarchy to keep us in a place. But no longer. Our place is where we choose.