The pill: Not just about contraception


Me with an aspirin between my knees, trying to save some money on birth control. I don’t think it’s going to work.

There’s a lot of noise going on right now about contraception. Obama wants to increase access to it by making contraceptives covered by insurance. Representatives of religious organizations believe that by paying for said insurance they are “condoning” contraceptive use, which is contrary to their beliefs. I won’t try to sound objective: I think it’s patently ridiculous to frame this as a freedom-of-religion issue. Covering the cost of preventative care (including contraceptives like the Pill) in your employer-provided insurance plan is not the same as telling you that you can’t worship as you see fit.

Some on the freedom-of-religion side of the argument feel that contraceptives are tantamount to abortion. This is false, plain and simple. A quick recap of how some popular contraceptives work:

  • Condoms: Available at your local drugstore. These block sperm from entering the female reproductive tract, thus preventing conception. Not abortion.
  • “The Pill”: A hormonal formula that changes the balance of hormones in the woman to mimic pregnancy or lactation, thereby preventing ovulation. No ovulation means no egg to get fertilized by a sperm. Not abortion. In addition, the pill can lead to increased viscosity of the cervical fluid which can prevent sperm from entering the uterus (so even if an egg was ovulated, it would never get fertilized).
  • Intrauterine devices (IUD): There are 2 types: a hormonal one and a copper wire one. The hormonal type works similarly to the pill. The copper wire IUD works in two ways. First, it kills sperm. No sperm, no pregnancy. If a sperm does manage to fertilize an egg, the hostile environment set up by the IUD (it triggers a “no vacancy” signal in the uterus) prevents implantation. No implantation=no pregnancy=not abortion.
  • Emergency contraception (“Morning after pill”): This is basically a high dose of the regular Pill. You would use this if you accidentally missed a pill or 2 and had unprotected sex, if your normal contraceptive strategy (e.g., condoms) failed, or if you simply had unplanned unprotected sex. If ovulation has not yet occurred, emergency contraception can prevent ovulation. If it has, it can cause the lining of the uterus to become hostile to implantation, so in case an egg had been fertilized it would not implant. Again, not abortion.
  • Aspirin: Oh, wait, this is not actually a contraceptive. Just a really, really terrible and insulting joke.

But let’s put aside the contraception issue for a moment. Remember that the idea behind Obama’s mandate is accessibility to preventative medicine. Yes, birth control pills prevent pregnancy, but they also help prevent other things, like ovarian cancer.

This opinion piece in the LA Times by Malcolm Potts brings the non-contraceptive uses of the Pill to the forefront. Dr. Potts also makes an excellent suggestion about how to avoid the whole religion issue altogether (at least for the pill; I don’t know about IUDs): make it available over the counter. Perhaps if our politicians weren’t so busy getting riled up by their own rhetoric, this would have already happened with the emergency contraceptive pill. But, unfortunately, I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

If only our government based its decisions about the availability of medication on science instead of opinions and gut feelings (like the idea that the pill makes women more promiscuous–as if that’s anyone’s business anyway). It would be nice…but I won’t hold my breath.

9 thoughts on “The pill: Not just about contraception

    • @not my name: I would think that if the aspirin did its job, it would PROMOTE sexual activity. As in, “my headache went away, let’s bone.”
      I ignore my headaches and jump my guy anyway.

      • So well put. All week I’ve been thinking that there are so many tignhs I don’t trust my 16 year old about (or do but might worry) Plan B though, I’d say bring it on. I want the way paved for smart choices (even if an accident or a less great choice preceded it).

  1. The issue that really riles me up is that of the fact that the pill, the IUD, and some of those ring thingees are often prescribed for reasons that have little to do with contraception. Is Holier Than Thou University or Hospital going to refuse to prescribe these pharmaceuticals to women who have extremely heavy bleeding, very painful menses, endometriosis, etc. ???
    I’m sorry Mr. Asprin-pusher, but being down to half of my body’s hepatic iron stores may be a great way to lose interest in doing the horizontal mambo, but it’s also not a great way to be a productive citizen!! And asprin in these cases, just aren’t going to cut it!
    Just my 2¢ !

    P.S. – Terrific comeback to that insane Laframboise screed vis a vis grad students and research – I am a lab mgr in Cell/Molec – and interesting blog in general!!

    • Thanks! And yes, I agree that the public health benefits of increasing access to contraception (for pregnancy prevention and medical reasons) far outweigh the objections from the religious groups.

  2. Being over the counter won’t make the pill cheap. It would solve the problem of access but I doubt it would suddenly be the $10 copay mine currently is.

  3. The religious people consider preventing implantation similar to abortion. Just FYI. Preventing fertilization is far more acceptable, and since the pill is prescribed for people with difficult periods as well, I think their argument there is very weak. I know many religious people with no issues with the pill or condoms.
    But for the other two… The church’s philosophy is that life is sacred. When they’re defining life as beginning at conception, I can appreciate why they are trying to discourage these methods. Providing them would be a contradiction.

  4. Hi,
    I am an art student at the University of Oregon, in a printmaking class. For a woodcut project, I wanted to create an image of political statement regarding the current absurd birth control opposition. I found your image and find it inspiring, with the socks remiscent of classic prison stripes, and the innocence of knee highs, of course representing Foster Friess’ utopia. I wanted to ask your permission to create an 8×10 woodcut print based on your image. I would be happy to share rights to the print image I would create, with the understanding of crediting each other, if you would like. You can contact me at the provided email address either way. Thank you!

  5. Pingback: Male contraception: a new advance | Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

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