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Posted at 04:33 PM ET, 02/10/2012

Obama birth control compromise distracts from issue of whether the pill is safe, activists say

After weeks of uproar over a new requirement that religious employers provide free birth control, President Obama said Friday he had found a compromise.


Norgestrel and Ethinyl Estradiol birth control tablets. (Reuters)

Workers at religious institutions, he said, will get free contraception directly from health insurance companies instead of their employer. Both sides of the debate welcomed the announcement.

So everybody wins, right?

Everybody except the women taking the pill, some activists say. During the past year, they say, there have been a number of troubling developments concerning birth control, and yet the national discussion remains focused on who is doling it out.

Last month, Pfizer recalled one million packets of birth control pills due to pregnancy concerns, because of a manufacturing mix-up. Several weeks before that, an advisory committee to the FDA said labels on the popular Yaz and Yasmin pills didn’t contain the information they should about possibly causing blood clots. Two different studies found those pills put women at a higher risk of blood clots.

Women began self-reporting health problems like blood clots, too, often on “survivor boards” As of last month, approximately 10,000 lawsuits piled up against Bayer by women who have suffered blood clots or by the families of women who have died while taking Yaz or Yasmin.

And yet the pill continues to see an almost universally positive representation in the media, writes Holly Grigg-Spall in Ms. Magazine, as “a quality of life treatment,” and curer of acne, bloating and anxiety.

Elizabeth Kissling, professor of communication and women’s and gender studies at Eastern Washington University and past president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, wrote recently:

I’m surprised there has not been a broader call for more research, or wider public discussions of the risks of this pill. When a drug company is withholding data and 10,000 lawsuits are pending, more than research is needed. I can’t help but wonder why we’re not seeing congressional hearings–akin to the 1970 Nelson Pill Hearings – again, and more of an outcry from both physicians and patients.

Grigg-Spall thinks there is a lack of education because it helps sustain the profits pharmaceuticals companies.

“In this current climate... it is very difficult for women to have an intelligent, critical discussion about their birth control choices and particularly about the relative dominance of hormonal contraceptives,” she wrote in an email to The Post.

Grigg-Spall started a blog called “Sweetening the Pill,” about the dangers of birth control, because she started feeling depressed after switching to a new brand of pill. But these days, she is outraged about all the women she says she has encountered who have faced even worse side effects.

Friday, Obama sought to soothe a different outrage over birth control. “This is not only unacceptable, it is un-American,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a Catholic, had said of the requirement that religious employers provide free birth control. “Correct this decision which will erode the conscience rights,” another Catholic senator, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, had said.

In Friday’s press conference, Obama corrected that decision. It did not escape activists’ notice, however, that he made no mention of the birth control pill’s possible risks.

By  |  04:33 PM ET, 02/10/2012

Tags:  National, Obama, birth control, the pill

 
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