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Tuesday 18 January |
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Sweetening the Pill

Holly Grigg Spall

Carolyn Moynihan - MercatorNet - published on 10/16/13

Slate writer Lyndsay Beyerstein in a review that goes to some lengths to rebut the author’s claims. Bitch has another lengthy critique of Grigg-Spall’s treatment of “the science” under the heading “…a Completely Frustrating New Book on Birth Control.”

I found the book rather frustrating, too, but not for the same reasons. The review copy I received is repetitive and needs a lot more editing. In addition, the author’s quest for alternatives to the pill – both technical and philosophical – leads her into feminist fringe territory which is sometimes cringe-inducing. And she fails to see the logical consequences of some of her insights. Nevertheless, in her attempt at a comprehensive critique of the pill and allied contraceptives she gets some important things right.

The contraceptive pill is designed to treat no illness, but it can make healthy women sick.

In The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill (1969), trail-blazing health feminist Barbara Seaman quotes a James Balog of Merck Pharmceuticals: “The issue was whether any woman would take a pill every day to prevent the chance she might get pregnant. They believed no one’s going to do that, not when they’re not even sick, and they’re not even sick!” This is one of many telling quotations in Sweetening the Pill.

Female fertility is not an illness. The monthly cycle indicates that the body is healthy and functioning as designed. At the age of 27 Grigg-Spall was stunned to realise that the pill did not “regulate” her periods – it replaced them with “fake” periods. And the synthetic hormones which stopped her ovulating affected her whole body – not only the endocrine system but also the immune and neurological systems. Here was an explanation for her regular urinary tract infections, sore and bleeding gums, low blood sugar, hair loss and muscle weakness – on top of her mood disorders and mental fog.

And those are only the milder effects the pill can have. It doubles the risk of a blood clot. In the case of Yasmin/Yaz the risk is another 50 to 75 percent higher and is cited in heart attacks, strokes and gallbladder disease as well. The pill is also implicated in heart disease, breast and cervical cancer; women who start using hormonal contraception young are particularly vulnerable to these effects.

Yet health authorities and agencies such as Planned Parenthood are going all out to get teenagers onto long acting hormonal methods (LARCs) including the injection, the implant and the hormone releasing IUD, since young women have shown themselves unreliable in taking the pill. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy website has promoted long acting methods with the line, “We love our LARCs because they let us get lucky without leaving anything to chance.” Get lucky? The cynicism behind this is breathtaking.

Defenders of contraceptive drugs dismiss the risk of blood clots, for example, as reasonable compared with those of pregnancy, and cite benign effects on a range of conditions from acne to endometriosis. But pregnancy and childbirth – and the natural menstrual cycle itself, Grigg-Spall strongly argues – are protective of women’s health in a number of ways, and the fact that the pill happens to be useful in correcting some disorders hardly justifies drugging hundreds of millions of women around the world who do not have those conditions.

The pill is misogynistic, arising from fear of female fertility

Following other feminist critics of the pill, she sees its development as the work of a male dominated capitalist system which has long been impatient with the female body and psyche. This ignores the socialist-welfare contribution to pill “addiction” which is at least as influential. Moreover, the extremes of both systems spring from materialism and a proprietary attitude to nature.

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