Recently, a years-long class-action lawsuit against Merck Pharmaceuticals saw renewed media interest after skeleton skater Megan Henry joined the lawsuit. Henry, who used Merck's NuvaRing in 2012, ended up missing this year's Winter Olympics.
Henry says the effects to her body have been devastating. They started with “a hard time breathing,” and concluded with “multiple blood clots in both lungs” and health risks if she was to get pregnant.
According to the NuvaRing website (graphic content warning), the device works through insertion into the vagina, and is supposed to remain inserted for three weeks at a time. Side effects include blood clots, stroke, or heart attack, and “the most common side effects reported by NuvaRing users are: vaginal infections and irritation, vaginal secretion, headache, weight gain, and nausea.”
The Merck lawsuit has nearly 4,000 people on board. They claim the risk warnings were underplayed. The lawsuit was the focus of a Vanity Fair profile, and the article's introduction said the author “asks why, despite evidence of serious risk, a potentially lethal contraceptive remains on the market.”
It's not just NuvaRing getting a bad rap in popular media. Former talk show host and self-described feminist Ricki Lake is producing a forthcoming documentary looking at the devastating effects of hormonal birth control on women, as well as devices like NuvaRing. Her involvement is already drawing aggressive reactions from pro-abortion website Jezebel and celebrity Perez Hilton.
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The goal of the video, according to Lake and the film's director, is to “wake women up to the unexposed side effects” of contraceptives. The two women claim, “In the fifty years since its release, the birth control Pill has become synonymous with women’s liberation and has been thought of as some sort of miracle drug.”
“But now it’s making women sick and so our goal with this film is to wake women up to the unexposed side effects of these powerful medications and the unforeseen consequences of repressing women’s natural cycles.”
The health risks of birth control are well established. The World Health Organization, for example, says the pill is a Class-1 carcinogen, and heart risks are widely known. There is a possible link to greater risk of glaucoma, and occasionally deaths are linked to the use of various hormonal contraceptives.
While pro-life activists and the Catholic Church have long warned about the effects of birth control on a woman's body – as well as the consequences for relationships and general morality – such views have often been dismissed as anti-women. With renewed media critiques coming from unexpected sources, however, perhaps a new and constructive debate on the realities of contraceptives can be launched.
It would be the silver lining that at least helps to offset the unfortunate circumstances in which many women such as Henry find themselves.
A renewed debate could also have legal implications. With the HHS contraception/abortifacient/sterilization mandate case before the Supreme Court on First Amendment and other grounds, renewed media attention could impact how Justice Kennedy, the high court's typical swing vote, examines the consequences of mandating coverage of products with literally deadly potential.