Reproductive rights for all U.S. women came under attack this month with the introduction of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (H.R. 3) by Republican leaders in the House. Once again, a light is shone on the state of women’s health in our country today, and it illuminates the situation of women who are routinely denied proper health care, such as fat women. As has been said many times, what makes fat deadly is not the fat itself, but the treatment the fat person receives both from society and from the medical-industrial complex. At every turn, we’re told all our problems stem from being fat, we are ridiculed, and forced to accept a lower level of care than a thin person would. As far as our reproductive rights go, well, some people wish we didn’t have them, period.
In 2006 the British Fertility Society, which makes recommendations on fertility treatments to the U.K.’s national health service, recommended that “obese” women not be allowed to undergo in-vitro fertilization or participate in any fertility treatments. Their reasoning is that fat women are less likely to get pregnant and more likely to experience complications. I would say the reasoning underlying their official reasoning has more to do with the treatment of fat women as “less than” women, who don’t have the same desires and goals for their lives as thin women, or at least shouldn’t be helped to fulfill their goals if they have anything to do with creating more potentially fat people. But what keeps fat women trying to conceive unhealthy is less their fat and more the “time lost and poor success of conventional weight loss strategies” cited in an Oxford University study. The “obesity epidemic” is used here to justify not allowing fat women to have the same reproductive rights granted every other woman (at least, for now—and at least, for most other women).
Fat women are either marginalized or ignored in regards to their sexuality and their access to birth control, as well. Hormonal birth control methods don’t work as well for fat women, but doctors often don’t feel the need to inform fat women of this and advise them to use a backup method of contraception. This contributes to unintended pregnancies, and also poor prenatal care because unfortunately, some fat women don’t know they’re pregnant until they deliver—especially if they think they’re in the clear because they’re on birth control. And if you do find out you’re pregnant and decide to have an abortion, you may have an experience like this woman’s—told she was too fat to be administered anesthesia during the procedure. I’ve had a D&C (dilation and curettage, one method of abortion) without anesthesia and it is a level of hell I wouldn’t advise anyone to enter. But apparently above a certain BMI fat smothers nerve cells and prevents them from transmitting pain!
Joking aside, these situations should spur us into action to protect reproductive rights for all women and demand a level of care that is equal across the board. H.R.3 is bringing the fragility of women’s abortion rights to the fore once again, and it’s an opportunity to also bring to the fore the mistreatment so many marginalized women still receive when attempting to exercise their reproductive rights.