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The website I will be analyzing is under the URL womenshealth.gov meaning that it is run by a government agency, specifically the Office on Women’s Health, and focuses on emergency contraception, also known as emergency birth control. The website does present its information very clearly beginning with simple facts about emergency contraceptives and then presents a series of questions and answers that they thought to be commonly asked. Throughout the webpage, numbers and data are presented to support the facts that are outlined. Although at first glance the website seems to be clear and useful, it actually has some faults in regards to women’s issues such as agency and victimization; and although the website does undoubtedly address some social positions, it also neglects to address others.
The website immediately jumps into the circumstances that facilitate emergency contraceptive use and immediately the issue of women’s agency in the midst of social constraint comes up. The page reads: “Use emergency contraception if: you didn’t use birth control, you were forced to have sex, the condom broke or came off,” etc. After reading the first two reasons why a woman may need to use emergency contraception, I noticed a problem. The phrasing of “You didn’t use birth control” is problematic because it places all of the blame on the woman. While I see that by doing this the website is not victimizing women and that it may be the woman’s agency not to use birth control, it also fails to acknowledge instances where the lack of birth control is not the woman’s fault due to rape or other circumstances. So the phrasing sounds a bit accusatory and would probably be better put as: “You or your partner did not use birth control.” The phrasing of “You were forced to have sex” is also problematic considering this strategy. For one thing, the fact that the subject is “you” puts the blame on the woman in a similar manner as before. But it also, more alarmingly, seems to gloss right over the instance of being raped in the first place as it simply moves on to the next reason to use emergency contraception. This makes it seem as though being forced to have sex is not as serious an issue as it truly is, and perhaps a woman in that position, for example in an abusive relationship, reading those words may not fully understand her circumstances and what she can do about it. Typically, when a situation where a woman has been raped comes up, many further resources are provided as well as direct instructions to see a doctor about it. Without any additional word on forced sex, it does not allow women who were raped to take control of their situation and gain agency. Failing to recognize a victim where there is one is equally as bad as victimizing all women.
This website takes into account certain social positions but it does not encompass all social positions. It addresses age within the question and answer section with the question “I heard that 17-year-olds can now buy ECPs without a prescription – is that true?” The website goes on to elaborate on the topic of age and also clearly defines what an individual under seventeen years of age should do to get emergency contraceptives. However, other social positions such as socioeconomic status are left out. The website never gives an up-to-date price for over-the-counter emergency contraceptives. A woman with forty dollars to her name may go to the store to buy emergency contraceptives just to find out that it costs a whopping $100 (which is another issue on its own). She is left with little to no time to see a doctor about her options and not enough money to purchase the Plan B. Within the question and answer section, where they address other issues relating to social positions, one would think that “How much is this going to cost me?” or “Is there a way to get ECPs for a discounted price?” or “Is this covered by insurance?” would be some pretty commonly asked questions. The closest they get to this is linking Planned Parenthood’s website at the very bottom of the page for more information, but the link only takes you to the homepage of Planned Parenthood and not a more specific webpage on emergency birth control. Because womenshealth.gov does not provide information on pricing and how financially viable emergency contraception is, it may prevent women in certain socioeconomic positions from utilizing it because they may feel that they do not have the option to do so.
While this webpage is very informative and there are a lot of benefits to reading it, the way it handles the less obvious women’s health issues is appalling in a way. On top of being clear and factual like this one, women’s health websites should also account for all social positions, as well as women’s agency in this socially constructed world. This is just one more example on how far we still have to come as a nation regarding women’s health issues considering this website is run by a government agency.
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