Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Y'know, this birth control debate is missing a bigger issue

I'm of a few different thoughts on the brouhaha over the government mandate regarding birth control insurance coverage.  So I'll address a couple of things that bug me briefly and then move on to the big bug.

For one, if you want free birth control, it is readily available to you--the Fertility Awareness Method is as effective as condom usage when done properly.  (Any method of birth control becomes shockingly less effective when used improperly, as mothers of Pill babies can tell you.)  This is a fairly good overview of the method.  Of course, it requires you to be well aware of your body and is inappropriate for women who aren't in a committed relationship, but one could easily argue that if you probably shouldn't be having sex with people who might pass on STIs.  Unsurprisingly, Planned Parenthood claims--without using numbers, that I have seen--that FAM has an unacceptably high failure rate.  (I'm a bit surprised that PPI says the same thing; you should see the differences in what PP in the US says about lactational amenorrhea* vs what the international branch does.)  Interestingly enough, the authors of my Human Sexuality textbook claimed that the Standard Days method--therein described as abstaining from cycle day 8 to cycle day 19--was 99% effective.  Which it is, if your cycles are within what's actually a pretty narrow window of normal.

Second thing to bitch about: coverage of birth control pills is being compared to coverage of vasectomies.  They're not the same.  Most insurance companies do cover female sterilization.  The truth is, there is no form of hormonal birth control for men, so it's impossible to make a decent comparison.  It's worth noting, however, that the one primarily male form of contraception out there, condoms, is not covered by any health insurance that I can think of.  Granted, you can go to the county health clinics here and get them for free, but you can do the same with female contraceptives. 

But those are relatively minor gripes.  Here's my main gripe:

Feminists are arguing in favor of mandated coverage for hormonal contraceptives.  One of the arguments I am seeing again and again is "birth control pills aren't just for birth control."

This is true.  And it should piss off feminists everywhere.

See, birth control pills are quite commonly prescribed to treat symptoms such as irregular periods, heavy/painful menstruation, etc.  Note that I say they are prescribed to treat symptoms.  This is because birth control pills do NOT address the underlying causes of any of these symptoms.

Birth control pills do NOT treat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.  PCOS, left untreated, increases a woman's risk of nice things like heart disease.  Metformin shows promise in treating the syndrome, but doctors love to throw the Pill at women who have PCOS.

Birth control pills do NOT treat endometriosis.  Again, it treats the symptoms, but not the underlying cause.  The pain relief hormonal contraceptives provide is often temporary, to boot.  Now, to be fair here, this is one of those things that has really no good way to treat the disorder aside from surgery, so using the Pill to address the symptoms does have some validity.

In general, however, far too many doctors throw artificial hormones at women just to shut them up.  It's a better thing, it seems, to increase a woman's long term risk of heart attack, blood clots, and stroke.  All of which are minor concerns with relatively short-term use of hormonal contraceptives but which increase fairly dramatically with long-term use--and if you are prescribed BCP to shut you up about painful, irregular periods as a teenager, you're going to pass a decade of using the Pill at a pretty young age.

Not to mention that this "treatment" of female problems becomes untenable to women right around the time they decide to have children.  No, not all women want to have kids.  But most do.  So you go off birth control pills when you decide to try to get pregnant...and what happens?  Ooh, there come the painful, irregular periods!  And since you're warned that it can take 90 days for the hormones to completely leave your system, that's at least three months of pain, and if you have PCOS there's a fairly good chance the only help your doctor will offer you for the symptoms is "Lose weight."  (Weight gain--and difficulty losing weight--is a symptom of the disorder, not a cause, but it's still common advice.)

Why feminists are not up in arms over the way women are having this medicine thrown at them essentially to shut them up is beyond me.  I suppose it's been the conventional wisdom for so long now that no stops to think it through.  Even the Catholic church, I have been told, will give you a bye on using the Pill to "treat" female issues.

Wouldn't it be lovely if feminists raised a little hell about having medicine thrown at them to shut them up and agitated for research into menstrual cycle disorders?

*When I told the nurse immediately after having Marie that I would be using LAM, she chided me that it doesn't work.  "I know four women working here who tried using breastfeeding as birth control, and they all got pregnant!"  Listen, people, if you're working, you do not meet the criteria for LAM.  Again, use the method wrong and the efficacy tanks.  Imagine that.

1 comment:

Borepatch said...

The suspicion is that there are people in the Feminist Movement that want Bishops forced to hand out contraception and perform abortions.