“Preventive Services” that Carry a High Human Cost

By Susan E. Wills


September 17, 2010

Planned Parenthood is organizing a national effort to have contraceptives included among the free “preventive services” health plans must provide under the new health care reform law (Press Release, 7-14-10).

Normally preventive services mean vaccines, tests, screenings, etc. that are given with minimal risk to patients to prevent—or at least detect and provide an early warning of—serious illness and life-threatening conditions. Common examples: blood pressure and cholesterol screening for hypertension, mammograms for breast cancer, Pap tests for cervical cancer, and vaccines to prevent transmission of communicable diseases.

But prescription contraceptives don’t prevent or screen for disease. Their purpose is to block the normal functioning of a healthy reproductive system. They prevent a person from being conceived or born.

Moreover,  far from preventing diseases, contraceptive use is associated with many harmful side effects and actually increases the risk of acquiring certain diseases.

The World Health Organization lists estrogen as a carcinogen. Estrogen is used in combined oral contraceptives (e.g., the pill, the patch, the vaginal ring) and in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause. U.S. breast cancer rates soared as the number of women on HRT increased from the early 1980s to 2002, when the Women’s Health Initiative trial was halted after finding elevated risks of breast cancer and stroke. Between 2003 and 2006, when HRT use dropped significantly, breast cancer rates in the U.S. plummeted 18 percent!

Cancer is not the only problem. Contraceptive Technology cites numerous studies in which estrogen in contraceptives has been associated with increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, and hypertension.

Progestin-only contraceptives—mini pills, injections, and implants—have been associated with menstrual cycle disturbance, “excessive weight gain,” hair loss, and depression. The injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera has been found to significantly decrease bone mineral density.

Hormonal contraceptives offer no protection against sexually-transmitted infections and diseases (STDs). In the U.S. alone, there are over 19 million new cases of STDs annually (half among those aged 25 and under), and more than 60 million people are currently infected with STDs. The total keeps growing because there is no cure for viral STDs — like HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, and strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause genital warts, as well as other strains responsible for 99% of cases of cervical cancer.

Hormonal contraceptives are also thought to increase a woman’s risk of becoming infected with HIV (doubling the risk of HIV in one 10-year study), Chlamydia, and other STDs due to their damaging effects on the cervix and lining of the womb.

Aside from being immoral to use and involving the above-mentioned health risks, contraceptives don’t work very well.  Fifty-four percent of U.S. women seeking abortion were using contraception the month they became pregnant.  The presumed efficacy of condom use in preventing STD transmission has been shown in studies to be completely offset by complacency and “risk compensation” (more casual partners, less care in use).

Planned Parenthood is fully aware of these increased risks, yet it wants mandated contraceptive coverage for all, perhaps so women will end up having to use their other services—emergency “contraception,” STD screening and treatment, mammograms and Pap tests, pregnancy testing, and abortions. That is no reason for the federal government to force all of us to buy such coverage.  Is it not wiser and healthier to avoid these risks by respecting one’s own dignity and the dignity of marriage?

Susan Wills is Assistant Director for Education & Outreach, USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.