Contraceptives: unreliable and unsafe

The contraceptive implant Implanon has caused health problems in British women and has failed to prevent pregnancy.

A contraceptive touted by its makers as 100 per cent effective was not able to prevent the pregnancies of almost 600 women living in the United Kingdom. Implanon, issued 11 years ago by MSD, is a subdermal contraceptive which is implanted under a woman’s skin and releases progesterone to stop ovulation. Although it was supposed to prevent conception for three years, the contraceptive sometimes failed to implant or implanted too deep for proper function. Seven of the women who reported their pregnancies to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency received a total payout of £200,000 by NHS trusts. Stephanie Prior, a partner in Anthony Gold Solicitors representing some of the 584 complainants, reported to The Guardian that they “suffered psychological difficulties as a consequence of falling pregnant and later miscarrying or having to make the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy.”

Even though there is always a possibility that contraceptives may fail, they are frequently lauded as being “safe” and a guarantee against pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research organization founded by Planned Parenthood, the failure rate of the male and female condom is 17.4 and 27 per cent, respectively, assuming ‘typical use’ (‘perfect use’ of each condom significantly reduces failure rates to of 2 and 5 per cent respectively, but experts know that they are seldom used as directed). According to the Guttmacher Institute, the contraceptive pill has a typical  failure rate of 8.7 per cent, an IUD 0.1 or 1.0 per cent (depending on the type), an implant 1 per cent, and a diaphragm 16 per cent failure rate.

There are several factors that can result in contraceptive failure, such as not taking the pill as prescribed, or breakage or dislodgment of other forms of contraception. A 2009 study in the journal Contraception also found birth control pills are less likely to prevent pregnancy in obese women. Certain antibiotics or medical treatments may furthermore impair the function of the pill.

The failure to properly use the contraceptive or a flaw in the device itself, coupled with increased sexual activity owing to declining fear among users of getting pregnant, may result in high rates of unplanned pregnancies. For example, a study in the Family Planning Perspectives journal, using statistics from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, finds that 71.7 per cent of poor cohabiting females under 20 years of age using condoms and 48.4 per cent using the pill get pregnant. Poverty, age, and marriage make a large difference as predictors of contraceptive failure: in the study, only 9.8 per cent of wealthier 25 to 29 year olds, for instance, became pregnant after using condoms. A study, meanwhile, in the June 2006 issue of the Guttmacher Institute’s Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health journal, conducted on American high school students from 1991 to 2003 noted a 21 per cent decline in risk of getting pregnant. Yet, in 2003, 54 per cent of total pregnancy risk was due to contraceptive failure.

The effectiveness of contraceptives in preventing STDs is also in serious dispute. Brian Clowes, director of research at Human Life International, in his article, “Case Against Condoms: Death by Latex,” gives several examples of the ineffectiveness of condoms. For instance, Cambodia, in the early 1990s, adopted a “100 per cent Condom Program” to fight against the spread of AIDS. From 1994 to 2001, condom use increased from 99,000 to 16 million, while the HIV cases rose from 14 to over 16,000. Thailand and the Philippines are two other countries that instituted programs to fight against the spread of AIDS. While Thailand adopted a “100 per cent Condom Use” program, the Philippines instated “AIDS-free Philippines,” an initiative led by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. In 1987, before the programs were put in place, Thailand had 112 AIDS cases and the Philippines had 135. In 2003, there were 570,000 people in Thailand with HIV and only 9,000 in the Philippines. The same effects are even observable in the United States: from 1989 to 1992 in Arkansas, when condom use was heavily encouraged, rates of teenage syphilis rose by 130 per cent and the teenage HIV rate rose by 150 per cent.

Increase in contraception use has moreover led to higher abortion rates because of more unwanted pregnancies. A Spain study conducted from 1997 to 2007 in the January issue of the journal Contraception on women from 15 to 49 years old reveals that, although use of contraceptives rose from 49.1 to 79.9 per cent, the rate of elective abortion more than doubled from 5.52 to 11.49 per 1,000 women. “Both stories,” wrote John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, on his blog about the failed British contraceptive implants and the dual rise of contraception and abortion in Spain, “provide evidence of close association between contraception and abortion. The provision of contraception not only fails to prevent unplanned pregnancies but results in unborn children being victimised to death as the unwelcome consequences of so-called contraceptive failure.”

Some advocates of contraception are aware of this link. “As people turn to contraception, there will be a rise, not a fall, in the abortion rate,” said Malcolm Potts, the former medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. “Since it is… a long-recognized and documented scientific fact that almost all so-called ‘contraceptives’ routinely fail,” Georgetown University bioethicist Dr. Dianne Irving told, “is there any wonder that elective abortions are socially required in order to take care of such ‘accidents’?” Pointing to the Spanish study, Irving said, “Thus abortion has become a ‘contraceptive’ in and of itself.”

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