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It can be harder to get a tubal ligation or vasectomy than it is to get a gun

UPDATED: JUNE 7, 2022 AT 3:33 PM
BY
KIRO Newsradio, Features reporter

In 2016, Christen Reighter gave a TEDx talk titled ‘I don’t want children — stop telling me I’ll change my mind.’

“A value that I have always understood about myself was that I never wanted children,” Reighter said in her talk.

When she was 22, Reighter went to a doctor requesting tubal ligation; permanent birth control. But like so many other women, she was denied. Not for medical reasons, but because of the doctor’s personal values. Over the course of a year, Reighter saw several doctors and no one would perform the procedure.

“[They asked me] ‘Do your parents know about this?’ ‘What do your parents think about this?’ ‘Does your partner know about this?’ ‘What if your partner changes their mind?’ ‘What if you get a different partner in the future?’ I had a bachelor’s degree,” said Reighter, who is now in her 30s. “I was in my 20s, I had a life partner, I was not a child and I was absolutely being spoken to like a child. I very quickly felt like I was more on the stand in court than at a medical appointment.”

Reighter points out that tubal ligation is a legal procedure in Texas.

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“The only requirements for that procedure, in my state at that time, you had to be 21 or older, you had to be of sound mind, and you had to have a 30-day waiting period,” said Reighter.

I wondered why, legally, doctors are allowed to use their own values to decide whether or not a woman can get a common procedure.

“For the same reason that pharmacists who can claim religious exemption can prevent people from getting legal and authorized prescriptions for birth control or even for an over-the-counter Plan B pill,” Reighter said.

A few years ago, California’s Erin Louis also wanted her tubes tied.

“I was 30,” said Louis. “My husband and I already had a son. My husband had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and was about to go in for treatment. His doctor had told us that with the radiation, it would be a very bad idea for us to get pregnant.”

So she made an appointment with her doctor.

“Which happens to be at a Catholic-affiliated medical network,” said Louis. “I told the doctor, a woman, what my husband’s doctor had said. The first thing she asked me: was I sure that my husband was okay with this? I was only 30. And I kept telling her, ‘I had a really difficult pregnancy, financially it would be a really bad idea.’ You know, I kept pushing back. But she kept asking those questions: was my husband okay with it? ‘Are you sure you’re not going to change your mind? You’re really young.’ That was when she told me that it was actually illegal. Because of my age and because I’d only had one child, she said that it was illegal for her, or any other doctor, to perform a tubal ligation or permanent contraception on me. That shut me down. I let it go.”

Eventually, Louis went to Planned Parenthood to get birth control and a nurse there informed her that the procedure is, in fact, legal.

“That was when I realized it was a Catholic place, so they just don’t actually do that,” said Louis. “And so rather than just saying, ‘We can’t help you here because of our policies.’ She just flat-out lied. Had she actually told me the truth and that it was just the policy, I would have had an opportunity at that time to go to another doctor.”

This sort of thing also happens to men. California’s Randy Torres was in his late 30s, married for nearly a decade, and neither he nor his wife had ever wanted children. He wanted a vasectomy.

“I had to take a class,” Torres laughed. “It was super weird. There were six of us and we had to go around the table and say why we were making this decision. The weirdest part was the amount of documents I had to sign. I can’t sue them if I’m like, ‘Oh no, I want to have kids now and they took that away from me.’ Even when I was there getting the procedure done, I was on the table, the doctor asked me three times, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ And he even said, ‘I don’t recommend it.’ I was like, ‘Okay, can we get through this?'”

Back to Reighter, who had done a lot of research on tubal ligation before she found herself in this doctor’s office.

“He left the room and I heard him speaking to a surgeon through the door and he said, ‘I’ve got this 22-year-old little girl in there who wants a tubal.’ And the surgeon with whom he was speaking just said, ‘If she wants it, give it to her. Just give it to her. Just sign it.’ He comes in and begrudgingly tells me, ‘Okay, we’re going to sign some paperwork.’ The entire time, though, he is standing over me and shaking his head disappointedly,” Reighter said. “He’s like, ‘You’re going to regret this.'”

In her TEDx talk, she responded:

“I told him, ‘If I wake up one day and realize, I wish I’d made a different decision back then, the truth is I’d only removed a single pathway to parenthood.’ I’d never needed biology to form family anyway,” said Reighter, as the audience clapped.

After getting approved, Reighter’s partner, at the time, took her to get her tubes tied.

“The surgeon came out to him in the waiting room, when I wasn’t there, and asked him if he really was okay with this,” said Reighter. “I don’t even know if that’s legal. Even when I’m being prepped for the surgery, someone is going out and asking a man if this was okay.”

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Reighter wonders why women who want to have a child, who go to a doctor seeking IVF, aren’t asked the same questions she was: Are you sure you want a child? Are you emotionally and financially stable? Do you think you’re old enough to handle the responsibility?

“It seems like it’s almost better to be a bad parent in our society than a non-parent,” Reighter said.

As for all the pushback from doctors, OBGYNs, and women’s health advocates, Dr. Jen Gunter has a theory. She told Bustle.com that a 1999 CDC study shows that 20% of women under 30, who had tubal sterilizations between 1978 and 1987, regretted having the procedure. That’s compared to a 1% regret rate for women who had abortions.

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