An All Male Hearing Devoted to Birth Control – Where are the Women?

What could be better for women than a table of religious men debating birth control?  It is time that women took back their fertility and tell men and Big Pharma to back off. No more regulations and no more harmful synthetic hormones, or invasive wires in our uterus. Our pelvic goldmines need to stop being ‘cash cows’ in the name of the industry.

The Birth Control Conundrum

By Marcia G. Yerman
March 2, 2012

Uterus inserted by M.G. Yerman adds a nice touch.

The image of a table of men—primarily from religious organizations— comprising a hearing devoted to birth control, became a snapshot emblematic of problems to follow. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked the obvious question when she inquired incredulously, “Where are the women?”

Attempts by Sandra Fluke, a college student that had hoped to speak about the wide role of birth control medicine in women’s health, had been rebuffed with the statement that she wasn’t “qualified to testify.” She has since been publicly vilified by Rush Limbaugh.

For many, there was confusion about the whole conversation. Religious freedom was being pitted against women’s rights to basic health care. What exactly did it all mean for those of childbearing age?

In August 2011, a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine had addressed how making contraception available would help impact the high rate of unplanned pregnancy. Congress enacted a women’s preventative services coverage requirement as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Studies have shown that women with private insurance were paying approximately 50 percent of their total cost for oral contraceptives, compared to 33 percent for usual out-of-pocket costs for other drugs. In addition, women of reproductive age spend 68 percent more on out-of-pocket costs than men.

I contacted a range of professionals in the areas of medicine, law, and policy to get a clearer picture of the issues involved. Along the way, I learned a number of surprising statistics, including the high number of unplanned pregnancies in the United States—49 percent.

My first two inquiries were with medical practitioners, located in disparate parts of the country.

Dr. Ringland S. Murray, a Reproductive Endocrinologist who is Board Certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, practices in Tennessee. He told me, “I don’t have a political axe to grind, but I don’t get it from an economic standpoint. It’s bewildering that this would be a battle. It’s a lot more expensive to have a baby than for pills to be supplied to women.”

He continued, “If this is a question of holding down health care costs, it’s more cost effective to prevent pregnancy, especially in high risk groups such as those who are economically disadvantaged. These individuals frequently have higher risk pregnancies with more complications and therefore, more costs.”

Outlining the numerous health benefits of oral contraceptives Murray explained, “There are lots of health care reasons to prescribe birth control. For endometriosis pain, it prevents the loss of workdays. It reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by 40 percent as opposed to non-users. The protection lasts for up to twenty years, even if the pills are used for as few as three to six months. It has been used safely by women with BRCA mutations. Birth control pills have been associated with a 40 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer. They can be used in a diversity of ways. It depends on the women and her medical condition.”

Noting the high cost of purchasing birth control, Murray said, “Brand name birth control pills are very expensive, approximately $50 to $60 per month. They are not real affordable for a lot of women. There is tighter control over these, whereas the generic low-dose pills—which can run $25 per month—may be less effective. If you are not willing to pay for birth control, you are putting your employees at increased risk for pregnancy.” Murray said, “If it is available and affordable, there are fewer unintended pregnancies—the number one reason women seek abortion. Birth control has a 5 percent failure rate. It is better than condoms. If you are against abortion, you should be pro-birth control.”

Murray reflected, “In some ways, the Affordable Care Act could go farther. Studies have shown that to have the greatest decrease in unintended pregnancies, we should provide three to six months of contraception at a time, so women don’t miss days between pill packs. Women who must go to the pharmacy every month are at increased risk for missing pills and getting pregnant. But at the current asking price, how many women can afford three to six months worth of pills at a time?”

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