Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Birth Control Pills are the New Abortions

Mitt Romney--quietly--is signaling that he opposes not just abortion, but the birth control pill. It's frustrating that any and all positions a Republican takes against a woman's reproductive freedom are grouped under a generic "Republicans are pro-life" metric, because by all rights people should know just how far the GOP base is pushing its candidates out of the mainstream here.

Meanwhile, Jill at Feministe points out the media is seriously falling down on the job when it reports on the efficacy of the pill. Referring to a quote given by an anti-abortion activist which nakedly asserts that the pill "doesn't work," she comments:
It is a medical fact that birth control pills do work. And they work astoundingly well. If you use them as directed, they’re 99.7 - 99.9 percent effective. Even the typical use rates are pretty good — BC is 92 percent effective even when women don’t use it perfectly. So this isn’t a matter of personal opinion. There simply isn’t data out there backing up the statement that birth control pills “don’t work.”

When reporting a story like this, the news media does have an obligation to present both sides, and so I certainly don’t fault them for including the anti-choice view. But they also have an obligation to inform the public and not promote false information. If someone is quoted as saying, “Yesterday, the President visited Togo,” when in fact yesterday the President was in Russia, the reporter has an obligation to point out the president’s actual location.... And if someone is quoted as saying, “Birth control pills don’t work” when in fact birth control pills work quite well, a good reporter will refuse to perpetuate untruths, and will instead allow the quote to stand next to the actual facts.

Facts are stubborn things--unless they're ignored.


PG said...

Given how common oral contraceptives are among American women, I'm not too worried about the average newspaper reader's being convinced by a quote from an anti-Pill nutter that the Pill isn't an effective contraceptive. At least among women*, too many of us know someone who uses the Pill and seems to be doing a splended job of getting laid without getting knocked up.

So I'm actually kind of hoping that being anti-Pill can be characterized as a widespread Republican position. While the percentage of women who have had abortions is relatively small, and many of those women are secretive and conflicted about the abortion, the percentage of women who have used the Pill successfully is much larger and likely to be much more publicly annoyed if they suspect Republicans want to turn back the clock on it.

Moreover, this is a more difficult issue in which to try to stick to federalism than abortion is. Although states theoretically could ban oral contraceptives under general police powers if we got rid of Griswold v. CT, the move at the presidential level would more likely be having the FDA suddenly "reexamine" the safety of oral contraceptives -- which would make them unobtainble *everywhere*.

Anyway, the attack on the Pill is just a more technologically advanced version of Rush Limbaugh's old claims that condoms have a massive failure rate. Well, yes, if you've carried the same one in your wallet for a year in the hope of having sex eventually, it quite possibly will fail. But it's the sort of statistic that makes people who use condoms properly get annoyed, because if the condom is treated as a bad and thus irresponsible form of contraception, they feel tarred with that brush.

* I added that qualification because I just had to explain (for academic purposes, seriously!) to a male lawprof recently how an oral contraceptive worked, including why the name "7/7/7" made sense. "See, 7+7+7=21, which are the 21 days of fertility before the 7 days of mimicked menstruation. 21+7=28 which is the full cycle."

Is this a common level of cluelessness among men? I've only dated guys who'd been in sufficiently longterm relationships with feminists previously that they'd already been educated about menstruation beyond a vague notion that there was a Time of the Month.

David Schraub said...

I have to say, I was only vaguely aware of the mechanics of how the pill work. I trusted it worked (I, too, have female friends that have done an admirable job avoiding pregnancy), but amazingly, we never really have discussed the specifics of it.

Anonymous said...

It seems strange that no=one has really brought up the "health risks" of the pill.. I am a woman that is pro-choice or actually pro-feminist.. why is it life changing and great that woman can take this pill high in hormones that can give us heart-attacks, anyeurisms, moody, bloated, weight gain?? why? I am a medical professional and I know that the male reproductive system is not as complicated as a womans. UM so why is there not a "Pill" for men?.. republican, democrat.. difference when it comes to woman's health really men should not be in charge..