After Roe reversal, men need to step up when it comes to birth control

York Dispatch editorial board

Whatever you think about abortion — and this editorial board has made its opinion crystal clear over the years — the present reality is that women will have far less control over their bodies in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's revearsal on Roe v. Wade.

However, there's an element of this debate that far too often gets ignored: The role of men.

For decades, the whole abortion debate focused so intently on a woman's uterus that you might be left thinking every conception were immaculate.

Sure, plenty of men assert themselves once an egg is fertilized. Conservative judges and lawmakers certainly have no qualms about telling women what they can and cannot do once they're with child. And a recent study found that, based on data from 2003 through 2017, homicide was the leading cause of death for pregnant American women — and those homicides are frequently at the hands of their partner.

But if men feel obliged to wield such power over women's choices after conception, it's about time they accept greater responsibility on the front end: Namely, birth control.

Some of this focus on women is a natural extension of biology.

Protesters take to Continental Square in York City after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022. The rally was organized and supported by Rise Up York. Randy Flaum photos for The York Dispatch - yorkstoryman@gmail.com

Quick refresher for those who forgot their eighth-grade sex ed class: Hormones in a woman's endocrine system send a message once a month to a woman's ovaries to send an egg down the fallopian tube to the uterus, which itself has already prepared a thick lining of tissue to prepare for the growth of a possible baby. If sperm reaches this egg during the narrow window of time that it's sitting in the uterus, that egg could be fertilized and ultimately become a fetus and ultimately a baby. If not, all of the material is cleared out of the woman during her period.

The most commonly used birth control measure is "the pill," which essentially uses the woman's endocrine system to send a different set of hormones that stops the ovaries from sending out any eggs, prevents the uterus from creating a soft lining for the egg and causes the cervix to produce thick mucus that makes it more difficult for sperm to actually reach the uterus.

A woman-centered hormonal pill makes some degree of sense: Hypothetically, it's easier to prevent one egg from being delivered to the uterus than it is to stop 280 million sperm from reaching that uterus. (Yes, that's how many sperm are released during a sexual encounter.)

But the pill comes with some grave side effects for women, including bleeding, headaches and nausea. It also needs to be taken daily for as long as a woman wants to avoid pregnancy, which leaves very little room for human error when it comes to forgetfulness or insurance lapses.

Simply put, a baby is the creation of two people.

The responsibility and the consequences shouldn't be left largely to the woman. That becomes all the more obvious as the U.S. Supreme Court removes women's options and Justice Clarence Thomas threatens to limit access to contraception altogether.

There are several male birth control pills in various stages of development. They'd operate similar to the female ones — only the goal is to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg. Unfortunately, these pills are probably still years away from FDA approval.

For men who don't want kids, or who don't want any more, vasectomies are 99% effective at preventing sperm from leaving a man's testes. Likewise, condoms — when used properly — are just as effective as women's hormonal pills (which range from 91% to 98% effective) without any side effects or permanent changes to the body.