I find myself in a most unlikely position: feminists and I appear to see eye to eye on the matter of the contraceptive drug and devices which are still claiming thousands of victims.
The women’s health networks currently are working hard to raise public awareness of the dangers of the IUD, and are lobbying strongly to prevent the federal government’s blessing on the hormonal injection Depo Provera. They deserve support and recognition for their work.
Sadly, the mess we are in today is largely due to the way in which the leaders of the women’s movement in the 60s fell for the notion that the sexual revolution benefited women. Medical discoveries such as the Pill and, later, the IUD seemed to promise women the freedom to act without fear of the consequences. It seemed then that the only consequence to be worried about was that of the untimely pregnancy. Take away the fear of pregnancy, the theory went, and women would get on the same sexual level as men. Those who insisted, often timidly, that perhaps there were other matters to consider were dismissed as outdated moralists, too puritanical to move with the times.
Today we are finding out, often at great personal cost, that there were indeed other consequences for women who embraced the sexual revolution. The Pill and the IUD have caused some women to become temporarily infertile: the lucky ones have regained their fertility, but often after lengthy surgical and drug therapy procedures. Some of the less lucky women have been made permanently sterile, and many others have had to have hysterectomies because their medical problems were so severe. Both the Pill and IUD have been the cause of more than a few women’s deaths.
Profits before health
Even in the face of all this evidence, the medical profession as a whole and the birth control clinics continue to assure the public that there is no cause for concern. Women over 35 who smoke are advised not to take the Pill, but the IUD is recommended to them. Doctors and counselors continue to steer young women toward the Pill and the IUD – although recent reports show that the IUD is far from safe for young women who have not had children.
Doctors are not the only irresponsible ones. The multi-national companies, more concerned with profits than women’s health, put unsafe products on the market and only withdraw them when legal costs in defending them rise too high. Even governments appear to pay little attention when women point out that new contraceptive “advances” are of questionable safety.
The government committee studying Depo Provera has recommended it be approved. The experts say that such documented side effects as a complete disruption of the woman’s menstrual cycle are not important enough to warrant concern. Is it logical to believe that hormonal tampering with such a basic bodily rhythm could not have a serious long-term effect on a woman’s health? As we approve these chemical or devices, are we not, in effect, setting up large-scale experimentation on Canadian women?
It seems to me that those who continue to counsel women to accept medically dubious forms of contraception are showing utter contempt for women. Their actions are saying that natural female fertility is despicable and is to be subverted at all costs. Sadly, the costs are often too high.
This issue is common ground on which both pro-life and “pro-choice” women can unite, although such an alliance may be uncomfortable or difficult to accept. While pro-life groups have for years opposed the IUD, and certain brands of the Pill as abortifacients, the contraception issue has been difficult for everyone to agree on. Our anti-contraception stands have often been portrayed as motivated by religious values, and so, many groups prefer to avoid the issue entirely for fear of being labeled unfairly and thus losing some credibility.
Consequently, pro-lifers who support contraception may have to re-examine or reformulate their position in the light of these serious consequences to women’s health. It would not appear to me to be a valid pro-life position to support contraception (on the assumption that it will prevent untimely pregnancy) that seriously compromises women’s health.
Facing the facts
Clearly, too, the feminists are going to have to re-examine their endorsement of many forms of contraception. I imagine it’s too much to expect them to reverse their positions completely, since it has long been an axiom in the women’ movement that women, to achieve full equality, must free themselves from the “tyranny” of pregnancy.
Nevertheless, they cannot logically urge women who have been harmed by the IUD to seek damages from the manufacturer while simultaneously recommending it to other women as a safe device. Or can they? I have learned of at least one birth-control counselor, herself made sterile by IUD use, who still recommends it. As I understand it, she rationalizes her position as “not pushing her bias on her clients.” Does that sound familiar?
The Pill has its problems; so too the other methods (diaphragms, condoms, etc.) each have their own drawbacks. Those who vigorously promote contraception as the answer to untimely pregnancies are faced with a real dilemma … if they face the matter squarely.
Facing the facts, however, may well prove unpalatable to the majority of feminists. It will involve questioning their very assumptions. Frankly, I doubt that the leaders of he women’s and the birth control movements will admit that the so-called sexual revolution was a fraud, or that it enslaved and maimed more women than it liberated.
Still, the two groups do have common ground. We can agree that harm has been done and that it must stop. Let us join the lobbies to have the IUD removed from the Canadian market and to prevent Depo Provera from coming on to the market. Let us have a wide-ranging debate on the subject of contraception in general. It does not have to be conducted on the moral and religious level, the facts speak for themselves.