Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beware of Birth Control Chain Letters

With the advent of a pro-choice administration, women across the nation are looking forward to progress in the upcoming years. For those hoping to stifle women’s reproductive freedoms, however, the awaited inauguration of the nation’s 44th president means a call to arms for creating a plan to persuade the American public that accepting anti-choice ideals is the only way to support American freedoms. While most people are all too familiar with the attempts to end legal abortion, the campaign to end access to contraception may come as more of a surprise. And yet, the call to ban oral contraception, condom use, and promote abstinence-only education has been, and continues to be, at the top of many anti-choice agendas. Because medical knowledge, long-term studies, and good-old common sense all conclude that such goals would only serve to increase the rate of unsafe, unprotected sex, those pursuing such an agenda have to resort to groundless scare tactics.

One of the most recent attempts made at scaring the American public took the form of a chain email telling the story of a woman who had a stroke and died at the young age of 31. The email claims that the stroke was a direct result of the woman’s use of a form of oral contraception that prevented her monthly menstrual cycle and thereby led to an accumulation of blood that eventually clotted and migrated to her brain. It appeared to be of little concern to the original author of the email that the woman died in 2006, one year before Lybrel, the purported culprit, was even approved for sale. Apart from that slight miscalculation, the email is still rife with misinformation and medically inaccurate statements regarding oral contraception.

The use of oral contraception poses no significant risks to women’s health. Oral contraception works through a combination of hormones that prevent ovulation, the process through which the ovaries release an egg, thereby preventing fertilization by sperm. When ovulation does not occur, the uterus does not experience the hormonal changes resulting in the uterus shedding its lining, and menstruation is prevented. If the contraception pack includes a series of placebo pills, which do not contain hormones, the change in hormone levels experienced with the placebo pills weaken the uterine lining enough to cause what is known as withdrawal bleeding . Neither menstrual bleeding nor withdrawal bleeding are necessary for a woman’s health as both occurrences are nothing more than the female body’s natural response to fluctuations in hormone levels. Therefore, the concern that blood “builds up” in women’s bodies and will clot if a menstrual cycle is skipped is not supported by medical fact.

It is true that the use of oral contraception can, very rarely, have serious side effects, including blood clots and high blood pressure. Most women can use birth control pills safely; that’s one of the things that make it the most popular method of reversible birth control in the U.S. Certain medical conditions increase a woman’s chance of developing negative side effects while taking oral contraception, including smoking cigarettes, already high blood pressure, obesity, and an existing blood clotting disorder. As with all drugs, women need to speak with their doctors before taking oral contraception to ensure that no medical conditions exist that would increase the risk of complications.

It is essential that Americans do not allow themselves to be swayed by the propaganda of fear. Such tactics only work when individuals are not fully informed of the issues and do no

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