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Vaccines, Contraception And Blood Clots: Outrage For One, Silence For Another

Hannah Penny
Hannah Penny

Recent fears surrounding the possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, Oxford AstraZeneca,  have helped resurface the plight of female bodies at the hands of patriarchal healthcare. It cannot be denied that, historically, the white cis-male body has been seen as the ‘human’ body, with every other race and gender being seen as a stage removed from this perceived ‘normal’.

Far less medical focus and compassion is given to people who fall outside of this bracket. It is unfortunately not shocking then, that the minute possibility of men getting blood clots has caused global outrage whilst women have silently accepted the same (and far more likely) risk from their birth control for decades.

Following reports of blood clots in recipients of the vaccine in Norway, some European countries including Germany, France and Italy have stopped the current distribution of AstraZeneca. Since then, the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation have confirmed that AstraZeneca is still safe to use.

The risk of birth control users developing a serious blood clot is up to 10 in every 10,000 per year

This international furore has stemmed from 30 reports of blood clots across the five million Europeans vaccinated. This is lower than would be expected to develop naturally, without any vaccine.

In comparison, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests the risk of birth control users developing a serious blood clot is up to 10 in every 10,000 per year. The popular period tracker Clue suggest an even higher estimate at up to 16 users per 10,000.

This is clearly a loaded issue, rife with the misogyny that has infiltrated the female healthcare experience for centuries

Let us consider that in 2019 the UN claimed that 842 million people use hormonal contraceptives, and people assigned female at birth have been going through these side effects for over 60 years.

According to medical research, women taking oral contraceptive pills were 7.59 times more likely to develop cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, a condition that can be fatal. Why is this deemed safe enough to be taken by millions of women everyday if AstraZeneca is not? This is clearly a loaded issue, rife with the misogyny that has infiltrated the female healthcare experience for centuries.

Blood clotting is not the only cause of concern for those on hormonal contraceptives. Common side effects include (and are far from limited to) insomnia, depression, acne, vomiting and weight gain. More serious potential side effects include heart attacks, liver cancer, gallbladder disease and strokes.

What is hard to understand is how these pills can be deemed safe for use when women are often forced to choose between their sexual health, their physical health, their mental health, appearance and contraceptive rights. If only the onus could be shared between the male and female sexes…

Except that it could have been.

The various trials of a male contraceptive pill were unsuccessful as a result of the ‘mild side effects’ observed. These included acne, tiredness and weight gain of five pounds or less. Do we really respect the male body so much more than the female one?

Even if women choose not to use contraception, and do not wish to become pregnant, the process of abortion can not only be traumatic but even illegal. Currently, Texas State Rep. Bryan Slaton is filing to abolish abortions and criminalise those who have one, making it punishable by death.

His proposition includes those who fall pregnant from incest and rape. It is clear that his pro-life approach is contradicted when the ‘tiniest and most innocent Texans’ grow up into women.

Unsurprisingly, it is the female reproductive system which has been historically misunderstood. We have come to accept that the best position for someone to give birth in is a seated position, perhaps propped up in a hospital bed. Why is it then that no other animals are seen to naturally give birth in a position similar to this?

Following an episiotomy… it was once ‘routine’ for the doctor to add an extra stitch to keep a lady ‘tight’ for her husband’s pleasure

King Louis XIV, the ruler of France in the late 17th and early 18th century, had over 22 children. He prompted the shift away from giving birth on all fours. It has been noted that he enjoyed watching his partners give birth so ‘promoted the new reclining position’ so that his view of the birth was not ‘obscured’. Centuries later, this uncomfortable position has been entirely normalised in our collective conscience.

Further evidence of the misogyny rife in female healthcare is the ‘husband’ or ‘daddy’ stitch. Following an episiotomy in vaginal labour it was once ‘routine’ for the doctor to add an extra stitch to keep a lady ‘tight’ for her husband’s pleasure.

This procedure was often done non-consensually on women delirious from the exertion of labour and in many cases caused ‘excruciating pain’ in years to come. Once more we see the female body invaded by patriarchal forces.

We must not disregard that the white cis-female still holds further health privileges in respect to giving birth. An alarming recent UK study of maternal morbidity run by Oxford University researchers found that Black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum than white women. Asian mothers were again twice as likely to pass away when compared to their white counterparts.

It is clear then, that whilst every reasonable effort should be made to ensure the safety of medicine, this is often a privilege only granted to issues where men may be affected.

The recent mania surrounding the blood clotting of the AstraZeneca vaccine has caused tangible, real life repercussions – the same cannot be said for the contraception taken by hundreds of millions across the globe every day.

Hannah Penny

Featured image courtesy of  Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash . Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image.

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