I am a plaintiff in Priests for Life vs. HHS, one of seven cases against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate that will be heard by the Supreme Court on March 23.
The argument in our case, and the others, is that by forcing faith-based non-profits to provide contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and sterilization devices and services to our employees, our rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are being violated. That’s the truth and that’s the argument we believe will convince the Court to rule in our favor.
But beyond my religious objections to birth control that are consistent with my Catholic faith, I have major objections that have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with women’s health.
Hormonal birth control kills.
That is an incontrovertible fact but one that seems strangely absent from the debate on free contraception for all. Why on earth would I, as executive director of Priests for Life, sign my name on a form that would give the government a pathway to providing contraception to my employees, knowing what I know about birth control?
I wouldn’t, and I won’t. My employees support this decision, even though for them it raises the very frightening possibility that we will have to drop their health insurance.
Let’s have a quick look at the rogue’s gallery of the worst offenders in the birth control arsenal.
Yaz/Yasmin: Birth control pills that contain drospirenone, a synthetic progesterone. As of April 2015, 190 deaths had been linked to these birth control pills owned by Bayer. The company has spent $1.8 billion to settle lawsuits, and in the biggest suit to date, representing 12,000 complaints, the company agreed to set aside an additional $57 million in settlement money. Yet Bayer continues to sell Yaz and Yasmin and doctors keep prescribing it. These killer pills are especially popular with girls 13 to 18.
Ortho Evra patch: A small patch applied to the skin for three weeks of every month, it prevents fertilization or implantation by delivering a steady amount of two hormones, estrogen and progestin, through the skin and into the bloodstream. At least 50 deaths have been linked to the patch, amid claims that the manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, knew that its high levels of estrogen increased the chance of blood clots and strokes.
Nuva Ring: A flexible ring that a woman inserts into her vagina. Over a three-week period, Nuva Ring releases a continuous low dosage of the synthetic hormones estrogen and progestin to prevent fertilization or implantation. It’s hard to quantify the number of deaths among women using NuvaRing but the risk of this long-acting contraception is great enough that Merck & Co. decided to pay out $100 million to settle more than 3,000 liability lawsuits. Stories about the women who have died or been harmed by these drugs are heart-breaking and rage-inducing.
Depo-Provera: An injection of a hormone similar to progesterone that prevents ovulation or, failing that, blocks implantation of the fertilized embryo. Repeat injections are needed every 12 weeks. Documented side effects include increased risk of HIV infection, breast cancer and cervical cancer; blood clots; ectopic pregnancy; reduced fertility; excessive weight gain, and bone loss. Although usage of the patch produced by Upjohn is fairly low in the United States – 1.2 million women – Depo Provera is popular among teenagers.
Mirena: An intrauterine device implanted in the uterus for up to five years that works by releasing daily doses of hormones. Serious side effects include device migration, uterine perforation, internal bleeding, pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy. Mirena manufacturer Bayer was scolded by the FDA in 2009 for minimizing the risks of the device, and the agency has received more than 45,000 complaints from women who had the implant.
Essure: A permanent sterilization device implanted in the fallopian tubes. Resulting scar tissue around the nickel-titanium alloy blocks fertilization. Tens of thousands of women have reported a long list of side effects, including late-term miscarriage, and four deaths have been linked to the coils. The FDA has received so many complaints about the device from women that it convened a hearing in September 2015 and this month directed Bayer (again!) to launch new clinical trials and to add a “black box warning” to make sure women understand the risks.
There is no dispute that hormonal birth control, in general, increases a woman’s risk of blood clots, and it is indisputably linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, cervical and liver cancer, elevated blood pressure, decreased desire and sexual dysfunction and stroke.
The main question, however, is how the Pill and hormone-releasing devices impact a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
The medical community agrees that the risk of breast cancer is greater in women who have an increased exposure to the hormone estrogen. Women who begin menstruating early — before the age of twelve — and experience menopause late — after fifty-five — are at a greater risk of breast cancer because of this extra estrogen. Hormonal birth control functions precisely by increasing a woman’s exposure to estrogen. Therefore, it would seem, the longer a woman uses hormonal birth control, the greater her risk of breast cancer.
The argument should end there: Birth control is harmful to women. But drug manufacturers and others who profit handsomely from the HHS mandate downplay the serious and even fatal side effects, including death and breast cancer, by insisting that of millions of women using these drugs and devices, only a statistically small number are being harmed.
But how many is too many?
Faulty ignition switches on General Motors cars have been linked to 124 deaths and hundreds of injuries, which led to numerous lawsuits, millions of vehicle recalls and congressional hearings. Ford Pintos were recalled in 1978 after a design flaw with the engine killed three people. Firestone recalled 14 million tires in 2000 after reports of 25 deaths.
But where contraception is concerned, rather than recalling these deadly drugs and grilling pharmaceutical executives in Congress, the Obama administration is promoting their use and insisting that employers foot the bill.
Not this employer. I care about the women on my staff — some still single, some newlyweds, some with growing families. Their health matters to me, and so I will continue to spread the word that birth control is harmful to women. And I will not obey the mandate.
The HHS mandate is the real war on women.
Janet Morana is the executive director of Priests for Life; co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, and author of Recall Abortion www.RecallAbortion.com (2013 Saint Benedict Books).