If you weren't sufficiently enraged by the Obama administration overruling the FDA's decision to make Plan B available to teens under 17 without a prescription (which would have made it easier for all women to obtain emergency contraception), now there's concern that the new birth control rulings out of Washington could make more women afraid to use hormonal contraception. Much like when a certain politician spouted false information about the HPV vaccine, all parents hear when they're flipping past The Today Show is that medicines meant to protect their daughter's health are likely to make her drop dead.
Several women's advocacy groups tell Reuters that they're worried that the headlines last week about the Plan B decision, as well as the move to change warnings for drospirenone containing birth control pills like Yaz and Yasmin and the Ortho Evra patch (which doesn't contain drospirenone) might increase the public's fears about hormonal contraception. Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, explains, "If you've seen on TV somebody crying that their daughter died taking birth control pills, and you're a mom, you may not remember the (particular) birth control pill. You'll just say you can't be on it to your daughter." National Research Center for Women & Families was one of the groups pushing for Yaz and Yasmin to be removed from the shelves, since there are safer pills available. Planned Parenthood said the FDA was right to keep the pills on the market, and pointed out that when fears of birth control causing blot clots emerged in Britain in the mid-'90s, many women went off the pill and the number of unwanted pregnancies increased. Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America said:
"What we know is that a focus by the media on meetings such as this carries the risk of creating panic among everyday women and also healthcare providers who may not be knowledgeable about why the meetings are being held and the data that is conveyed during the actual meetings."
Since the FDA found after reviewing several studies that Plan B should be over the counter for everyone, it seems like the overturn of the decision was more about not wanting to be the administration that said middle schoolers can take the evil "abortion pill" (though, of course, that's not what Plan B does).
The FDA is supposed to be providing information on the health risks associated with certain medications, but with several decisions coming so close together it may have confused consumers about the real dangers of hormonal contraception. While there is an increased risk of blood clots with Yaz and Yasmin, previous studies have pointed out that they're only slightly more dangerous than older birth control pills, and pregnancy is a much bigger clot risk. Choosing the right birth control is an individual process women need to talk about with their doctors, and Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, who chaired the FDA panel, says they hope that the media attention "raises awareness and pushes women to have more thorough conversations with their providers."
Unfortunately, conveying nuanced, non-hysterical health information isn't the media's strong suit. Kirsten Moore, president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, says:
"The scientific review that happened at the FDA is completely overshadowed in the larger message that birth control gets politicized all the time ... The majority of the news that's going to break through is about contraception being political, rather than whether it's safe or not."
Ideally, government agencies should be able to send the message that hormonal birth control is very safe, while like all medications, it has potential side effects. Instead, in our culture no information regarding birth control is ever non-controversial, particularly because there are many conservatives who fear these drugs will promote rampant sluttiness, when they actually do what they claim to want (reduce unwanted pregnancies and cut down on abortions). The continual promotion of the idea that there's something scandalous about these drugs, when for the vast majority of Americans there's nothing morally objectionable about them, prevents women from getting accurate messages about their health.
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