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UMSL Professor Questions 'Medical Sexism' In Linking Birth Control To Pap Smears

January 2, 2020 Jill B. Delston
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Why do so many physicians require women to have a Pap smear and a pelvic exam before writing a one-year prescription for birth control? Most of us never think about that question. It is what it is.

But Jill B. Delston isn’t like most of us. She’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She gets curious about things that we shrug off as the way things are.

Delston’s new book, "Medical Sexism," argues that linking these invasive procedures to birth control access is a form of medical sexism. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined us to discuss her thesis — and argued that physicians need to follow their own guidelines, which hold that Pap smears should only be given every three to five years. 

By linking the cancer screening to annual prescription refills, “a lot of women are getting these tests too often,” she said. “That leads to a lot of false positives, overdiagnosis and overtreatment.”

Physicians may be operating with good intentions, Delston acknowledged. “Doctors think, ‘Hey, this is great for patients. I want them to get testing for cancer.’ And cancer screenings really do save lives; Pap tests have saved lives for so many people. But when those Pap tests get weaponized to use against female patients and limit their reproductive autonomy, that’s when we should start to worry.”

In 75 countries around the world, Delston said, women can obtain birth control pills over the counter. “It is very safe to have it over the counter,” she said.

Listen here:

Related Event

What: Book Signing, Reading And Release Party With Jill Delston
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020
Where: Subterranean Books (6275 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63130)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.