Why Can’t We Criticize the Pill?

Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

re: Cycling

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall
February 13, 2012

Discarded Pill Package Photo by Beatrice Murch // CC-BY-SA 2.0

On February 10th, the Washington Post published an op-ed piece by Rachel Maddow. In this she outlines how there are Republicans who don’t want birth control covered by insurance, they don’t want Planned Parenthood receiving federal funding, and they want an embryo to be considered as a person with rights. She highlights that this last issue threatens the legality of hormonal birth control. In the final paragraph she states:

“Time will tell on the political impact of this fight, but the relevant political context here is more than just a 2012 measure of Catholic bishops’ influence on moral issues. It’s also this year’s mainstream Republican embrace of an antiabortion movement that no longer just marches on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to criminalize abortion; it now marches on the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, holding signs that say “The Pill Kills.”

I was somewhat perturbed by Rachel’s slightly misleading description of how hormonal birth control works which suggested she has no more of an understanding than the Republicans she is railing against. However, I like her and I am loathe to criticize her — but I must. The thing is — the pill does kill. I’m not talking unborn children, I’m talking teen and adult women who are definitely considered persons.

As I wrote about for Ms. magazine last week, the FDA recently ruled to keep the oral contraceptives Yaz and Yasmin on the market despite the fact that it was discovered these drugs hold a 50% to 75% increased risk of causing blood clots than other birth control pills. Even though they are only as effective as other pills in preventing pregnancy, an FDA advisory board weighted with people with financial ties to Bayer Pharmaceuticals decided the benefits outweighed the risks. There are 10,000 lawsuits against Bayer — women who have been seriously injured by the embolism, stroke, or heart attack that resulted from a blood clot and the families of women who have died. I spoke to a lawyer working on many of these cases who told me one of his clients is a 20-year-old young woman who was training to be an Olympic skier when she started taking Yaz. She developed a blood clot, had a stroke, and is now permanently injured.

Now, I’m British and so where I’m from birth control is free under the National Health System. If you want to use the pill for contraception the doctor draws a little ‘female’ sign on your prescription and the pill is given to you, any brand and as often as you need it, for free. If you want it for, say, acne or endometriosis treatment, you pay the same prescription rate as you would any other drug — around $12. The NHS has even piloted schemes to make the Pill available over-the-counter. So, I’m coming from a very different background and therefore when I started criticizing Yasmin — and then the pill as a whole — through my blog, Sweetening the Pill, I was perplexed to find I was accused of siding with the far and religious Right. I’m pro-choice. I used the pill for a decade. Now I use a combination of condoms and spermicide together and the fertility awareness method. I don’t want children. I have no problem with abortion. I’m not Christian. Somewhere around half of the British population do not see themselves as part of an organized religion, significantly more than in the US.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.