Advocates of abortion and birth control often speak of “empowering women” with unbiased and vital information about “reproductive health.” Their silence following regular warnings about the negative side effects of contraceptives, however, calls into question the nature of their concern for women’s health.
On September 26, 2011, the FDA announced that it “remains concerned by the potential increased risk of blood clots” associated with the use of one of the most popular types of birth control pills. As irony would have it, the date of the FDA announcement was also recognized as “World Contraception Day” (WCD) that year. Dedicated to the promotion of contraception, WCD is again “celebrated” September 26 and is sponsored by such organizations as Marie Stopes International, Population Council, and International Planned Parenthood Federation.
The stated mission of WCD is to “improve awareness of contraception and to enable young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health.”
Note the emphasis on helping women make “informed decisions.” With such a mission statement, one would expect that the FDA’s concern about the side effects of certain birth control pills and other contraceptives would receive serious attention from the defenders of women’s health in a press release or on the WCD web site. Yet the website dismisses side effects as “rare” and “uncommon.”
The most popular oral contraceptive, contains the progestin, drospirenone, and has in been marketed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals to young women under such trade names as Yaz, Beyaz, Yasmin, and Safyral. Following publication in the British Medical Journal of two studies in early 2011 that indicated these birth control pills brought their users a two to three times greater risk for venous thromboembolism (blood clots), the FDA announced on May 31, 2011 that it would undergo an investigation into their safety.
Following additional studies, this investigation concluded in April of 2012 with the FDA changing the label of drospirenone oral contraceptives noting this contraceptive may increase the risk of blood clots 9 fold when compared to women who do not use oral contraception. The FDA notes, that it “has concluded that drospirenone-containing birth control pills may be associated with a higher risk for blood clots than other progestin-containing pills.”
In an article from 2011 addressing the risk of blood clots for women it was noted that this increased risk is quite significant. It is estimated that if half of the 100 million women who use oral contraceptives today used the newest drospirenone-based contraceptives, then 50,000 women each year will suffer from a life-threatening blood clot because of their oral contraceptive use.
Awareness of this increased risk is vital for consumers, especially for parents as they make health-care decisions for their teenage daughters, and for college-aged women as they make health care decisions for themselves.
The WCD organizers who claim to provide “accurate and unbiased information” to young people make scant reference to any of the many and scientifically established negative side-effects of combined oral contraceptives. The site has brushed aside the increased risk of blood clots, stating that “a few women might suffer from thrombosis, but this is very uncommon.” No mention whatsoever is made about the FDA’s safety review.
Why is a site that is dedicated to contraception, and which boasts of its desire to help women make informed choices about their health, either downplaying or ignoring serious threats to the health of women who use the products being promoted? A closer look at the site reveals what may be the answer: the financier of World Contraception Day is Bayer Pharmaceuticals, the very company who manufactures all four of the brand name drugs (Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz, and Safyral) currently under safety review by the FDA. Yaz and Yasmin alone earned Bayer $498 million in the first half of 2012, which makes it the third highest earning drug for the company.
Is it any wonder that the WCD organizers are silent about the side effects of the drugs sold by their sponsor?
Bayer has other reasons to downplay the potential negative side effects of the birth control pills they market and distribute. As they report in their stockholder newsletter, the company faces a “number of lawsuits pending in the United States and served upon Bayer” numbering 12,325 as of July 19, 2012.” In addition, in July 2012 Bayer settled cases with 1,877 claimants to the tune of $402.6 million. Bayer has noted that, “Plaintiffs allege that they have suffered personal injuries, some of them fatal, from the use of Bayer’s oral contraceptive products Yasmin™ and / or YAZ™.”
Regardless of the outcome of these lawsuits, the findings of ongoing safety studies, and in spite of the virtual silence by organizations that promote birth control to young women, consumers have a right to this information. Unfortunately, it is either completely ignored or downplayed by the contraception establishment.
The promoters of World Contraception Day are hocking a product that makes billions annually for companies that know the harm their products cause, but seem to have calculated that the profits outweigh the risks to women’s health. Adding insult to injury, they are doing so with funds provided by the very company who profits from the sale of these drugs, all in the name of helping women make “informed choices” about their health.
In the face of this conspiracy of silence, where are the real champions of women’s health?