News and Tribune

March 29, 2014

NEWS AND TRIBUNE LETTER — For March 29-30


Contraceptive coverage should not be exempted



What seems to be missing from the very emotional and now litigious debate around contraceptives in the understanding of them as a hormonal treatment for a range of medical conditions affecting women. Perhaps it is too personal to talk about so thousands of women have kept silent. Let me break the silence.

In the United States, only 42 percent of those women using contraceptives use them exclusively for birth control. While birth control was the original intent for this hormonal treatment, over the years they were found to be most effective in treating a number of maladies affecting women and particularly adolescents. These maladies include endometriosis, menstrual pain, excessively heavy menstrual flows, severe acne, hirsutism (excessive hair in unwanted places) and uterine fibroids. There is now evidence that for those women who take contraceptives for at least 12 years, their chances of getting endometrial or ovarian cancer is reduced by 70 percent. Clearly, there are many important gains for women in having access to this hormonal treatment.

Beyond the medical issue are the human ones that can put women at a disadvantage career wise. When women are unable to control some of the more severe side effects of their monthly periods, then they are less effective at work, miss more days of work than are necessary, and thereby may find their chances for advancement affected by this perceived unreliability. For adolescents, severe acne can lead to a number of emotional and social difficulties.

If 58 percent of women taking contraceptives are doing so for medical reasons (14 percent of women relay on the pills exclusively for noncontraceptive purposes), how is it that we can deny them coverage for prescriptions treating medical conditions? If their employers are allowed to exempt contraceptive coverage because of moral objections, will we then force women using the prescription for medical reasons to share their medical issues with their employers? We have laws (HIPPA) that protect us from having our medical conditions shared with others.

Will women be forced to forgo that legal protection of medical privacy?

— Jane Willman, New Albany