Pregnancy Tests Should Be Free, I Repeat Pregnancy Tests Should Be Free

So I tweeted that a few months ago.

I didn’t think it was overly controversial. Turns out it may be for some, as I got a bit of opposition in the replies. And from women, too. That’s what I was shocked about most. Anyway, I thought I’d write a piece explaining why I think we shouldn’t have to pay for pregnancy tests. And why I disagree with the arguments put forward against them being free.

I am fully aware that if a woman is having a check-up at a GP or a sexual health clinic, then a pregnancy test may be offered for free. However, women should not have to book an appointment to get one, they should be made freely available in pharmacies. As we all know, the waiting lists can be long for appointments (shout out to the gross underfunding of the NHS), but it’s also an organisational burden and takes time to attend one. Pregnancy isn’t something we can just wait around for, hence why most of us just go out and buy a test from a shop so that we know as soon as possible and can make an informed decision from there. And that’s me speaking from my privilege of being able to afford one every so often – some people cannot. Let’s not forget that any basic commodity that is not free, strips away the rights of those not wealthy enough to access it. Charging people for pregnancy tests is an unfair burden on the working class and an assault to their right to healthcare.

It is estimated that $1.68 billion of pregnancy tests are sold globally each year. Pregnancy tests shouldn’t be a business or a global market, they should be classed as an essential product that everyone can access for free. Pregnancy tests should be easily accessible – anyone can walk into a sexual health clinic and get free condoms or have STI tests delivered to their home address – the same should apply to pregnancy tests.

Why we get Pregnancy Tests

An estimated 20 million pregnancy tests were sold in the US alone in 2019. I think most girls that I know have had to take a pregnancy test at some point in their lives – not necessarily because they missed a period. Not even because they weren’t on contraception, didn’t use a condom and thought they might be pregnant. You can have no symptoms and be pregnant. You can be on contraception and be pregnant. About 5% of the time, women using reliable birth control find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. With typical use, around 9 out of 100 women will become pregnant in a year of taking the pill.  You can have sex using a condom and get pregnant. You can even not have sex and get pregnant! And don’t us girls know it – I’ve heard too many horror stories of women on contraception having no signs, getting stomach cramps, getting it checked out at the GP and finding out they’re 7 months pregnant. And those horror stories don’t really leave the back of my mind. It’s been the main reason why I’ve ever taken a pregnancy test – any slight thing not right and the worst scenario pops into my head, if the paranoia continues I get a test just to put my mind at ease. For girls with irregular period cycles like me, you really don’t have a gauge of your fertility pattern or when a period is late, making it all the more harder to predict what the hell is going on.

“You Should be on Contraception”

Don’t bother. First of all, contraception isn’t suitable for everyone. I’ve tried out four different types of contraception prior to finding the one I’m on now which actually works for me. Second of all, contraception may not be a constant thing in a woman’s life – if she isn’t getting regular sex she might come off it for a bit to give her poor body a rest from the fuckery that is hormones. (Common side effects of birth control include irregular periods, breast tenderness, weight gain and nausea. Less common side effects include headaches and migraines, mood changes, reduced sex drive, changes to the shape of your eyes, blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, liver tumours and cancer. According to current research, using birth control increases your risk of having a stroke to approximately 1.9 times the standard level). So if unexpected sex comes along, is she meant to say no? Don’t be so unrealistic (and fucking prude). Thirdly, no contraception is 100% effective. For the implant, copper coil and hormonal coil, 1 in 100 women using them will get pregnant. Yes, one in one hundred. The injection and pill are less effective than this. Condoms are not 100% effective either.

So don’t come at me about contraception solving the need for pregnancy tests, because it doesn’t. Besides, I’ve been on contraception for years and that hasn’t stopped me buying a test if something doesn’t feel right. Whether the need for me to do a test is rationally justified or not, it does not stop me doing one. I’ve heard the argument before that yes, although contraception is not for everyone and not 100% effective, women could rely on the family planning technique to avoid pregnancy (boys – this is where you don’t have sex in your fertile window of the month). Firstly, this is wholly unreliable as a method. Secondly, I doubt it would curb any need for me to buy a pregnancy test should I get a gut paranoid feeling that something isn’t quite right. And finally, why on earth should women have to limit themselves on when they have sex?

Women End up Paying for Pregnancy Tests

There are lots of circumstances where women and girls feel the need to take a pregnancy test, but one thing never changes: someone has to pay for it. So in an ideal world, whoever you had sex with would half the cost with you. But really, how often is that a realistic expectation in practice? 

If I wanted a man to contribute to buying a pregnancy test, I would need to be certain that it would be his and only his, feel comfortable enough to ask for his contribution and have enough symptoms to prove that I actually need a test.

So if you’re in a relationship or seeing someone, then I guess it’s a lot easier to ask the guy for help with paying for the pregnancy test. Then again, I’ve been seeing someone before who knew I was getting a test and he didn’t offer to pay (I didn’t ask either, I’m just mentioning).

But if we talk about actual real life for a lot of people – we don’t all have only one single sexual partner at all times. If you did get pregnant, it’s not always going to be unequivocal whose it is. So to go round requesting payment from a guy for a pregnancy test who might not even be the father if you were, isn’t exactly an ideal option. Even if you have had sex with someone, you might not be speaking with them enough to ask them for money, or be comfortable enough with them to ask. You might not be speaking to them at all. And as I’ve said before, we don’t all only get pregnancy tests when we’ve missed a period and it’s there in black and white. So I’m not going to go round scaring the shit out of a guy just because I have some vague paranoia I might be pregnant that isn’t really backed up by hard evidence. And I think that’s a significant reason why women and girls don’t ask for anyone to split the bill – if the result is negative, there’s no need to go round worrying sexual partners about pregnancy. We deal with the worry ourselves, on our own, prioritising the wellbeing of those around us (those very men that are required for us to be in this position in the first place), at the expense of our own sanity and bank account.

Women disproportionately foot the bill for pregnancy tests. If you think there’s always the opportunity to ask a man to help pay, then I suggest you wake up from your fantasy and open your eyes to what goes on in real life.

Other Sexual Services are Free

Access to sexual health services in the UK is impressive. We are offered free STI tests, check-ups and contraception. There’s even a service that delivers self-test STI kits to your door, for free, with free delivery back to the lab. Condoms are free in sexual health clinics. So pregnancy tests should be too. I can’t help but note that condoms and STI tests are used by both men and women – whereas pregnancy tests have to be taken by women. It is a negligent oversight of government policy to not offer free pregnancy tests. Yes they’re an infrequent purchase, and yes they’re not that expensive to buy. But that is not the point. If they’re not that expensive, it’s not a big deal to fund them, is it?

Conclusion

Pregnancy tests are a financial burden that more often than not fall on women despite the fact that it takes a man’s involvement for a woman to feel she needs to take one. It’s evident that any woman not in a comfortable or official relationship may have to foot the bill for a pregnancy test should she feel the need to get one, or even if she is in a comfortable relationship, the potential stress caused by the situation may not be worth it. Women don’t just get pregnancy tests because they were irresponsible, not on contraception, or are experiencing all the symptoms of pregnancy. The range of reasons why a woman may feel that she needs to get a pregnancy test is huge. Pregnancy tests need to be free, where women can have them delivered to their door or can go and quickly pick one up at a pharmacy. 

To put it bluntly, men are responsible for the need for a pregnancy test, yet not responsible for paying for them. The state needs to act in providing this necessity so that women and girls are not bearing the brunt of this financial burden.

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