Oklahomans turn to vasectomy following overturning of Roe v. Wade
In response to the loss of constitutional protection for abortion and Oklahoma’s strict abortion laws, some Oklahomans are choosing sterilization to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
With finals just around the corner, it’s a busy time at the University of Tulsa, where Andrew Anderson is the director of bands. But just before Thanksgiving, he had surgery - a vasectomy.
“I did it before Thanksgiving. They had an opening then, but then I knew I'd have some recoup time in case I needed it. It just turns out I really didn't. So, I drove down to Norman and spent it with my folks for Thanksgiving and came on back and it's been okay,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the procedure was quick but not painless, and his recovery time was short. He was back to work right after Thanksgiving break.
“Growing up, I never really felt like I wanted children. And so, when you got to this point with the Roe versus Wade reversal this year on top of knowing that I mean, I'm 41 now. If I did have a kid and that kid got to be 18 years old and finally was out of the house, I'd be 59 years old,” Anderson said.
Anderson isn’t alone in his reasoning for getting a vasectomy. Dr. Ash Bowen is a urologist and fertility specialist at Urology Associates in Oklahoma City, and he said in the months after Roe v. Wade was overturned, new patient calls were up as much as 300%.
“We did some things to adjust to meet demand. We were fortunate that this happened while the health emergency is still going on and, you know, telemed is available. Not everybody just had to come to the office and wait for an appointment,” Bowen said.
In addition to a sharp increase in vasectomy appointments, Bowen also noticed more men in their 20s signing up for the procedure. In his experience, most patients were in their 30s or 40s at the time of their surgery. Bowen said he and his partners had to consider how to counsel an influx of younger patients wanting vasectomies.
“We present the arguments for other options, for maybe less permanent birth control and make sure they're making the right decision and understand all the risks and consequences of that decision,” Bowen said.
Bowen also said while it is possible to reverse a vasectomy, reversals are expensive and not guaranteed to be 100% effective. Additionally, while vasectomies have a nearly 100% efficacy rate, Bowen said that number is based on historical data. If more people get the procedure, especially younger people, the efficacy rate may go down over time.
“We counsel everybody that comes into the office that they should consider a vasectomy to be permanent,” Bowen said.
Jeremy Gragg, a 42-year-old husband and stepfather of two, was already thinking about getting a vasectomy before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, since he doesn’t want any more children - but he said the ruling has renewed his interest.
“My wife and I are ethically non-monogamous, and so I do have other partners. I have a tendency to drag my heels on things. But now that, you know, terminating an unwanted pregnancy isn’t an option, then, God, I don’t feel like I have a whole lot of choices,” Gragg said.
Apart from not wanting any more children with his wife or other partners, Gragg said he feels a responsibility to prevent any unwanted pregnancies.
“Carrying a baby is hard. It’s really hard on people’s bodies. To ask someone to potentially carry around a fetus for 40 weeks and, you know, all the complications that come with that and you know, the possibility of death. It is my responsibility to make sure I’m not putting that on someone else,” Gragg said.
Those considering sterilization after the overturning of Roe v. Wade will have different experiences based on their sex. A tubal ligation - otherwise known as “getting your tubes tied” for female patients is a more invasive and expensive procedure that comes with a longer recovery time than a vasectomy for their male counterparts.
But more than just the physical disparities, men and women are faced with different societal expectations regarding parenthood.
Anderson and his ex didn’t want kids when they were married, and they still don’t want kids after their divorce. He said his ex-wife received more questions and criticism from family and friends than he did.
“I think if I was a woman, there'd be a lot more shock. I think for guys, it's a little - I think society is a lot more comfortable with, you know, men saying, well, ‘I don't really want to be a father.’ ‘Oh, okay. You know, you just want to go do your bachelor thing.’ I think with women, there's a lot more shock when a woman says they don't want to have children.” Anderson said.
Bowen said vasectomy rates are now going back down to baseline - but the conversation around the distribution of reproductive responsibility may be changed forever by this summer’s Supreme Court ruling.
KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.