Letters to the WCP Editor – 4.03.12
Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 7:50 am
To the Editor,
Ms. Kathryn McDonald, in a reply to an American Forum opinion piece called “Contraception and the quality of life,” provided a long list of cause and effect relationships regarding contraception and summarized them by saying, “Contraception is the direct cause of so many devastating social problems.”
It is, however, unlikely that all of these assumptions are valid. We are a group of UT Martin Honors students (and professor) currently studying this topic in great detail from a scientific perspective.
We write this letter not to promote our opinions and not as representatives of the university, but to correct the false statements that were made in the March 15 Letter to the Editor.
Due to the recent media coverage of the issues of contraception, we feel that the public should be accurately informed so that they can make a more educated decision on the issue.
Even if contraception is a contributing factor for some of the negative effects described by Ms. McDonald, it should be taken into consideration that many other factors are also to blame. The issue of contraception cannot be condensed into a few bullet points in a letter; drawing conclusions about so complex an issue requires people to call on medical, historical, educational, ethical, moral, and many other sorts of variables.
Even years of research into these various aspects would not give us definite answers to all of our questions about contraception, especially regarding the issue of morality.
Our group does not wish to argue any issues of morality; doing so would be a lost cause because varying opinions would come into play, and no true answer could be found.
The specific points we wish to address include the following: cancer and medical side effects, abortion rates and teen pregnancy, single parents and poverty, divorce rates, contraceptive fail rates and STDs.
Ms. McDonald did not correctly interpret the source she cited (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/oral-contraceptives).
She reported the many horrible effects of contraceptives while not comprehending what her source was attempting to explain. Ms. McDonald reported an increased risk of “many types of cancer.”
However, the results of the experiments “indicated that current or former use of [oral contraceptives] did not significantly increase the risk of breast cancer.”
Likewise, she suggested that there was an increased risk of cervical cancer caused by oral contraceptive use. This is in contrast to her source which reports that human papilloma virus, which is present in 99 percent of cervical cancer biopsy specimens, is the cause of the diagnosed cancer. To continue, she failed to mention the decreased risk of endometrial cancer and the 50 percent decrease in ovarian cancer occurrence when contraceptive use is continued for five or more years.
To not completely disregard Ms. McDonald’s ill-informed account, the article does suggest an increased risk of liver cancer may be a result from prolonged oral contraceptive use.
Ms. McDonald stated that the use of oral contraceptives increases the occurrence of brain disorders and heart disease. However, it has been suggested that contraceptives actually decrease the risk of brain disorders by keeping estrogen levels high, specifically in post-menopausal women who typically are at high risk when their estrogen levels drop. Also, the risk of heart disease is only present in third-generation contraceptives (containing desogestrel) which were designed specifically for those with diabetes because it does not affect blood glucose levels.
Likewise, Ms. McDonald stated that oral contraceptives result in the inability to conceive. Although the purpose of oral contraceptives is to not conceive in the short term, the pill does not have any scientifically supported negative effects on long-term fertility.
In addition, she suggested that abortion rates have “skyrocketed.” However, abortion rates have substantially decreased from 29.3 women for every 1,000 in the early 1980s to 19.6/1000 in 2008. (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html and http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/graphusabrate.html)
In response to her statement on the increased teen pregnancy rates, it was reported in 2006 that these rates are down 41 percent from their peak in 1990.
In regards to “social downfall,” there are significant factual inaccuracies, and the issues Ms. McDonald suggests are too complex to accredit to one factor, such as oral contraceptives being the only contributor to an increase in poverty.
In fact, we were unable to find any direct correlation between contraceptives and current social ills. As to the claim “contraceptives encourage promiscuity,” between the 1910s and 1920s premarital sex rates doubled, without any oral contraceptive in existence (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/).
Additionally, the divorce rate in the United States has been decreasing since its peak in the late 1970s (http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=63&articleid=409§ionid=2787).
The final two issues that we would like to address are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and birth control fail rate.
The pill does not protect against STDs and is not advertised to do so. Only barrier methods such as latex condoms are known to effectively prevent STDs, and even then it is not 100 percent effective. Ms. McDonald’s argument was that contraceptives are the only reason for the increase in STD infection rates in the 1970s and 1980s; however, she ignores the impact of shared needles and syringes on these rates.
Thus, her argument is invalid. The listed fail rates for oral contraceptives (when used as directed) is less than 1 percent. Interestingly, the fail rate for persons using the pill incorrectly is only 8 percent, which is statistically significant compared to no contraceptives at all, which is a staggering 85 percent fail rate (http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/effectiveness-rate-of-birth-control-methods-topic-overview).
We have purposefully not indicated our opinions on the morality of this issue, as we think it is up to an individual to decide that for him or herself.
However, if one is to base their moral decisions on scientific evidence (such as Ms. McDonald’s letter did), one must represent that scientific data accurately and not twist the results of the study to suit their purpose.
Contraception is a complex issue, and it warranted hours of research simply to respond to this letter. We highly recommend that anyone taking part in this debate educate themselves with the facts, being certain that their information is coming from non-biased scholarly sources, and that they correctly interpret said information.
Kaitlin Byrd, Evelyn Daniel, Paul Gaters, David Lewellyng, Katie McCall, Heath McLean, Katie Pigg, Julie Reddick, Matthew Roberson, Bryant Roden and Dr. Kate Stumpo, assistant professor of chemistry, UTM
To the Editor,
I am discussing two issues here, which have been in Weakley County Press letters to the editor. First is the (insurance) coverage of birth control pills. These pills only prevent pregnancies people do not want and, in no way, cause abortions. My faith, as well as some other faiths, requires that we abstain to prevent pregnancy, but we are not strong to follow that. It is interesting if insurances cover these pills, because each birth costs a lot of money to them.
A second issue is there so much talked about with the power of Congress to mandate buying health insurance. Buying health insurance means no flooding of emergency rooms where the uninsured get free care which is burdening hospitals. It is likely that five U.S. Supreme Court justices would scrap that requirement, disregarding that 1. Congress did mandate once that each citizen bear arms in case of need for militia, and 2. Congress mandated during a draft that each citizen or immigrant register for the draft only to be drafted to get killed in wars such as World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War. If Congress can mandate death for people, why can it not mandate health coverage for saving life, avoiding death?
I wish this would reach the ears of the justices who are going to scrap that requirement.
Dr. M.K. Jain