The Game of Women’s Reproductive Health Care

Since Margaret Sanger first advocated for women’s use of birth control in the early 20th century, many of her ideas were deemed to be controversial, as well as revolutionary. Having coined the term “birth control” which we see almost everywhere today, from movies like Mean Girls to our health classes and doctor’s offices, Sanger established the first organizations that would later form Planned Parenthood. In recent years, organizations like Planned Parenthood which work to provide women with the access to the care they “need to live strong, healthy lives, and fulfill their dreams,” (Planned Parenthood) have been the heat of political conversations. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.

Is seeking out health care stigmatized in your community?


Poll Maker

What makes organizations like Planned Parenthood so controversial is the debate on Women’s Reproductive Health Care, which although certainly founded in religious contexts, has, in recent years, become extremely political. “The Left” sides with women’s choice, and women’s access to practically all forms of contraception, while “The Right” is generally pro-life, and aims to defund organizations like Planned Parenthood. The power of politics, and the scope to which politics has been brought into the media, is overwhelming. Health care should be more about the actual care for human beings, but rather, it has become a means through which politicians win the favor of the public, many of whom, it is safe to say, are generally unaware of the implications their opinion has. For instance, if someone is in support of defunding Planned Parenthood, they might not understand all of the implications that would have. The description of the study below illustrates, perhaps, the power of ignorance:

“Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views.”

“In a study conducted in 2012, they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.” (New Yorker)

My goal for you today is to help you understand the implications of stigmatizing the women’s health care dilemma. In order to maximize your experience on this page, please proceed through the page in order.


POLL- lets take some action!

Grab a piece of paper and rank your opinions on the following aspects of Women’s Health Care on a scale of 1-10. 10, being in complete favor, and 1 being completely opposed.

  • Organizations like Planned Parenthood which work to provide access to contraception, STD testing and other services to particularly young and the financially underprivileged.
  • Women having free access to contraception or abortion services
  • Sex Education as part of the school’s mandatory curriculum


Now, think about the number you chose. Take a minute, and write down what would happen if your desired action took place. i.e, if you were “for” sex education being part of the school’s mandatory curriculum, (6 and above) write about what happens in schools where this takes place. What are the upsides and downsides?

No really, at least have yourself do this for one of the above three issues. Pro or con, challenge yourself to think critically about your opinion.

The Issue:

One factor that largely contributes to the recent issues and debate surrounding Women’s Health Care is the hypersexualization of women. “Social psychologist Sarah Murnen has studied the hypersexualization of women in media for more than 25 years. The research that she and her colleagues at Kenyon College conducted over the last several years found a steep increase in the pervasiveness of images in magazines that show young women in highly sexual ways. The American Psychological Association defines hypersexualization as “occurring when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior to the exclusion of other characteristics.” (PBS) The reason that the infiltration of more sexualized women in the media has an impact on Women’s Health Care is because of the presumption that unlimited access to healthcare for women will induce their increased sexualization. Each year, the average teenager sees 15,000 references to sex on TV, on social media, or elsewhere. This rapid increase over the past decades may be unstoppable, but what can be done about it? If we can’t influence the access teenagers have to hearing about sex in their daily lives, we can certainly influence how informed their decisions are about it.

When we destigmatize the act of seeking out health care, we can drastically improve statistics such as STD and STI rates, as well as teen and unplanned pregnancy. If we look at places in Europe, where sex education is brought into school as early as age 4 with the discussions of love, and what it means to love someone, we see some of the lowest unplanned pregnancy rates internationally in industrialized countries. (PBS- The Case for Starting Sex Education in Kindergarten)


This image shows the decreasing acceptance in America about organizations that advocate for Women’s Reproductive Health. Such approval has dropped from 81% in 1993 to 59% in 2015, largely impacted by how political and media-driven organizations like Planned Parenthood have become.

Abortion isn’t the only part of Women’s Reproductive or Health Care, and it is not something everyone does or necessarily should agree with, but it is an important aspect of women’s health care that is largely disagreed upon. With the Supreme Court making the decision in the Roe v Wade Case about whether or not abortion should be deemed “legal,” it instigated the issue further into politics, ergo stigmatizing acts of women’s health care relating to abortion, such as contraception, STD testing, etc. 

With the growth of controversy surrounding the subject, certain Sexually Transmitted Diseases, according to the CDC, Center for Disease Control, have been on the rise. As organizations like Planned Parenthood have been thrown into the fire of politics in light of the recent election, it makes seeking out contraception not only a health issue, and perhaps a moral issue, but also a political one.


The Stigma

But perhaps you’re thinking. Where does this stigma come from? Almost everywhere. Stigma comes from the approach of sex education in schools. Stigma comes from the way our politicians talk about access to Women’s Health Care. Stigma comes from the way that movies rarely portray women in sexually confident roles. Stigma comes from the hyper-sexualization of women in movies, magazines, and music. When women are portrayed as sexually passive, dependent, and powerless, they are also portrayed that way in their ability to take initiative for their own health care. As health care has entered the political realm, it is important to remember that politics is largely dominated by men, with about 81% of politicians being male according to the Center for American Women in Politics. To increase the positive portrayal of women in the media, and women’s health care in politics, we must increase the presence and recognition for powerful women. The issue is, that there are many amazingly successful women in society today, but, unknowingly, we fail to recognize them. The video below shows how this has manifested itself into the younger generations.

When we don’t recognize women as independent and active members of society, a mindset that stems from the understanding of women as solely domestic providers, we devalue their power to make decisions. Such bias adds to the stigmatization of women being able to seek out their own health care. A positive influence comes from organizations like Planned Parenthood, Center for Reproductive Rights, and National Women’s Health Network, as well as doctors who work to portray health care in a positive light. The media, parents, TV, music, and (often) sex education systems in school infiltrate a negative perspective to women accessing their own health care. If you’d like to support an organization, and engage your voice in politics, see this petition. Often, health care is something that women don’t want, but need. The woman below calls upon her lawmakers and politicians to support organizations that provide women with the health care that they need. 

So what can be done? The United States is in a position of turmoil. The world is in a position of turmoil. Women have overcome a lot, but women don’t have the voice they deserve, and that can be seen by the controversy with women’s health care. When we look at our world as a whole, we see how few countries around the world have had female leaders. From a purely objective viewpoint, with so little of the world represented by females, it is clear that women’s issues will be spoken for less.


The Game:

Perhaps, we can consider the dilemma of fighting for Women’s Health Care as a non-zero sum game, where there are two players. Let’s call player 1 Ari and player 2 Rory. (These names were chosen to dissociate the roles with genders, because the fight for access to Women’s Health Care is not a fight of men against women).

Ari has a goal to negatively influence and restrict the access for women’s health care. Ari has multiple ways that [he/she] can try to achieve this. Ari utilizes the media in many aspects. [He/she] utilizes the portrayal of women in social media such as Instagram, Facebook, etc. Additionally, Ari portrays women as sexually passive creatures in movies, and sexualizes women and their bodies through magazines and advertisements. Below are some examples on how Ari influences women’s roles. Additionally, he brings health care into a political realm to increase the controversy and raise taxpayer concerns about funding, etc. In recent years, Ari has been increasingly successful because of the rise of media in lives of young men and women. Additionally, many parents and the idea of “tradition” favor Ari and [his/her] devotion to stigmatizing Women’s Health Care.

Rory has a goal to positively influence and promote women’s access to health care. Rory has multiple ways through which [he/she] can spread this influence including using testimonies from women, the expertise of doctors and other medical professionals, and the influence of organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and the National Women’s Health Network. Rory is able to exert a different amount of influence in different areas around the world. Sometimes [he/she] overpowers Ari, while other times Ari wins. This outcome can be determined by evaluating the combined influence all these “strategies” that our two players have access to.

Ari is our “Column Player” while Rory is our “Row” Player. The payoffs in each box correspond to the payoffs for the row player, meaning that, if the payoff is positive, it “helps” the Row Player, while if the payoff is negative, it “helps” the Column Player, while at the same time, “hurting” the Row Player. In a traditional game theory lens, these payoffs would be used to find which strategy should be used to combat one’s opponent. In this case, this game theory model is here to illustrate the impact that different sources have on the stigma toward Women’s Reproductive Health Care. Although it is not solvable in the strictest sense, the model helps us understand where the greatest stigma originates from. This table claims that the greatest negative influence is from TV/Movies/Music, with Media following in a close second. The best means to combat these concerns is through medical professionals and thorough sex education, although, despite the stigma, Planned Parenthood and other Organizations do a lot of work to help women. The distinction I wanted to make was in removing the stigma versus helping women. Please submit in the comments any feedback you may have regarding the payoffs I have assigned. Perhaps you think that Planned Parenthood beats out political turmoil and tax concerns. Feel free to share! If you take away anything from this presentation, let it be that your voice matters.

Media TV/movies/Music Politics/Tax Concerns Parents
Planned Parenthood/Other Organizations -2 -4 -1 0
Doctors/Medical Professionals -1 -3 2 0
Thorough Sex Education 2 1 0 1
Women -1 -2 -2 0

Sooooooooooo, What now?

What happens if Ari “wins?” What happens if Rory “wins?”

Who Should Win?


Poll Maker

If Ari wins, it is likely that Planned Parenthood, and similar organizations would be defunded. The infographics below aims to help people understand the role that Planned Parenthood plays in the lives of women and that “other providers” could likely not absorb Planned Parenthood’s extensive patient base if it were to be eradicated.


If Rory wins, then organizations like Planned Parenthood would prevail, and more funding would be put toward helping women get the care they need, without having to face the stigma of asking for help, and seeking out care. With more support for the cause, there is hope that we could eradicate STDs cross-culturally.

Many underpriveleged women, or victims of domestic abuse wouldn’t get the care they need. Planned Parenthood often partners with organizations that will provide health care and contraception to minors and victims of domestic abuse who are cared for under their partner’s insurance at completely no cost. If Planned Parenthood went away, teen, unplanned pregnancy, and STD rates would go up. The stigma surrounding getting health care would increase, and more women would buy into the idea that women who seek out contraception are “sluts.”

So what can you do?

Get Involved!

Getting involved is important for any issue. Whether you think Women’s Health Care should be promoted or opposed, I hope this presentation has taught you more about the implications of the issue, and I hope you take action, because there are many ways that you can do so. The links will take you to resources to help you take action!

Support your local Planned Parenthood: Get involved locally and see how you can help your local organization. Whether the organization needs outreach help, fundraising help, or a voice of support to be brought to your local community, they will always be willing to take on your support. 

Contact your local representative: Get involved by reaching out to your local representative with your opinion. Sharing your concerns with your representatives is important because it is their job to represent you!

Start a Fundraiser:  Get involved by starting a fundraiser for organizations like Planned Parenthood. Funding is very important to these organizations, and makes everything they do possible.

Get Involved in a Feminist Future: Donate to, join an email list of, or become a member with Organizations like NOW, the National Organization for Women.

Go Global: Organizations like the International Women’s Health Coalition support bold leadership for Women’s Rights. There are many ways to get involved with them including supporting the #whatwomenwant campaign. Submit a 60 second video here to support the movement of young feminists.

Double Your Donation: Many companies will match your donation, or at least match it to a certain percent! What? That’s right! Click this link to see if the company you work for participates in the gift matching program.

Social Revolution: Share on your twitter, facebook, or instagram accounts with hashtags like #womenshealth or #protectourcare or #pp to promote the causes that you support. Following organizations that you support on social media is another good way to demonstrate involvement.

Start A Club: Get together with a group of your friends that are passionate about Women’s Health Care and start a club. See if your school will allow you to provide your peers with condoms, etc. and inform your classmates about the value of reproductive health (especially if your school’s health curriculum isn’t)


And so:

All in all, you’ve already taken the first step. By becoming more informed, and following projects in the Catalyst Conference, you are already becoming more involved. Thanks to people like you, we can make our future brighter. Again, reach out in the comments section of this post! I will be happy to answer questions, and would love your feedback.


Bibliography for Unlinked Sources:

Bell, Taylor. “Sex Ed in Europe Is Exactly the Opposite of What You Got in America.” ATTN:. ATTN, 4 Apr. 2016. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

DeMelker, Saskia. “The Case for Starting Sex Education in Kindergarten.” PBS. PBS, 27 May 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

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