Nell Boeschenstein is angry. “I take birth control to minimize my risk of ovarian cancer,” she said. “To have that be potentially denied coverage makes my blood boil in ways I can’t articulate.”
Boeschenstein once wrote, “I’ve never sprained an ankle. The only bone I’ve ever broken is the forefinger of my left hand.” But when she discovered that she carries the BCRA1 gene, which carries a 90 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, she had some serious medical decisions to make — especially as her graduate program’s health insurance coverage would run out once she finished her degree. So after spending $10,000 out of pocket to qualify for the surgery — her insurance covered only 80 percent of the bills for the necessary MRIs, mammograms and ultrasounds — the 31-year-old Boeschenstein went under the knife for a double radical mastectomy.
The total cost of the procedure, pre-reconstructive surgery, was $100,000, most of which was covered by her health insurance. But the $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses put her in a deep hole, so she moved from Brooklyn, NY back to Charlottesville, Virginia. She was just in time to bear immediate witness to the GOP’s efforts to restrict access to reproductive health services and force women to have unnecessary medical procedures — like transvaginal ultrasounds, which Boeschenstein has to periodically undergo to check on her ovaries.
“Virginia being ground zero, I’ve felt so angry, frustrated and unwelcome,” she said. “This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the things we need to do to protect our reproductive health, which is the health of our whole bodies.”
“I’ve felt a little unwelcome in my hometown,” she added. “To think that people would take that control away to protect myself or minimize my fears [about cancer], it’s so intense.”
For instance, she said, “A friend of my sister’s posted a Fox news article on Facebook about birth control coverage being a First Amendment issue,” and she tried to stop herself from picking a fight. But then she realized, “‘I’m going to go there. I’m going to go there on Facebook.'” She added, “I said, contraception aside, I take birth control for serious health issues. And he just came back and said, ‘Yeah, but that’s a violation of my rights.’ My continued health, he said, was a violation of his rights.”
Boeschenstein doesn’t hold any illusions that the political move to restrict access to reproductive health care comes from a deep-seated religious convictions, either. “A lot of legislation is about making a name for someone,” she said. And when her housemate, Joey — her best friend from junior high in whose Charlottesville house she now finds respite — said, “I imagine some people just haven’t thought through these issues in a comprehensive way,” Boeschenstein had an answer: “There’s no excuse for that.”