Dustin Siggins

Former Olympic hopeful calls Merck’s NuvaRing settlement offer ‘laughable’

Dustin Siggins
Dustin Siggins

ROXBURY, CT, March 13, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Two years ago, Megan Henry was one of the nation's top athletes. A skeleton racer, she was training for the 2014 Olympics, with dreams of gold medals going through her mind.

Only months later, those dreams were dashed after Henry began using the contraceptive NuVaRing. She told local news that "within 10 days of taking it, I had a hard time breathing." She eventually went to several doctors and a hospital, where she found out she had “multiple blood clots in both lungs.” Henry says she missed a year of training, and would be at high risk should she become pregnant. 

Made by Merck Pharmaceuticals company Organon USA – acquired in 2009 after a merger with Schering-Plough Corp. – NuVaRing works through insertion into the vagina, and is supposed to remain inserted for three weeks at a time. According to the NuvaRing website (graphic content warning), side effects include blood clots, stroke, or heart attack. The website says that “the most common side effects reported by NuvaRing users are: vaginal infections and irritation, vaginal secretion, headache, weight gain, and nausea.”

After her 2012 experience, Henry joined nearly 4,000 other people in a class-action lawsuit against Merck, including plaintiffs who had lost family as a result of NuVaRing use. Last month, all plaintiffs were offered a $100 million national settlement. 

Henry told LifeSiteNews that amount isn't good enough. “Plaintiffs can either opt in or not, but the settlement is a laughable offer to rectify damages, considering Merck brings in over $4 billion in profit. A settlement offer of $100 million across nearly 4 thousand people is hardly compensation.” 

“Just for comparison's sake, other birth controls such as Yaz paid out over a billion dollars in settlements,” says Henry. She also pointed to how “95 percent of the victims have to accept the settlement. If 95 percent do not accept, there is no settlement.” Merck spokesperson Lainie Keller verified this to LifeSiteNews, noting that “if at least 95 percent of eligible participants as specified in the settlement agreement do not opt into the Settlement, Organon (Merck) is not obligated to proceed with the Settlement or fund the Settlement.” 

In 2013, Merck competitor Bayer AG agreed to a settlement worth more than $1.6 billion over accusations its Yaz and Yasmin contraceptive pills caused blood clotting. 

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According to Merck's settlement website, NuVaRing was created in 2001 and put on the market the following year. The class-action lawsuit was launched in August 2008, after multiple lawsuits were put into one larger effort. 

It appears that the full $100 million will not be seen by plaintiffs. The lead negotiatior for the plaintiffs, St. Louis attorney Roger Denton, said in a written statement that while he thinks the settlement is “an outstanding result and in the best interests of all the women who have suffered an injury associated with the use of NuvaRing,” between $30 million and $40 million will be spent on lawyer fees and expenses. 

“It will be hard [to accept the settlement],” said Henry. “A lot of families who lost daughters are just heartbroken. They feel they cannot morally accept the compensation, and other people just feel they can not accept knowing that Merck is essentially getting away with murder.”

“But there is not likely to be any opportunity to fight this in the future,” she admitted. “It is a very tangled web. You either accept, knowing that Merck is able to keep this product on the market with no repercussions, or you don't accept, and they still win. They win either way.”

The “opt-in” deadline for the settlement was March 10, but Merck's settlement website says that “several parties have requested brief extensions” that “have been granted.”

Henry told LifeSiteNews that “Merck should have been more honest with the dangers of NuvaRing, specifically by providing warning that represented the increased risk compared to other second and third generation birth controls.” 

“NuvaRing has a doubling of the risks for blood clotting incidents compared to other second and third generation contraceptives,” says Henry. She claims Merck, via Organon, knows this fact, but “continues to market the product in such a way that there is no increased risk," which she says "is not fair to the consumer.” 

Keller flatly denied Henry's claim, saying that “Merck has always acted responsibly with the marketing of NuVaRing, as we have with all of our medicines and vaccines.” 

“All combined hormonal contraceptives, including NuVaRing and combined oral contraceptives, are associated with an increased risk of [VTE],” said Keller. A VTE is a “venous thromboembolic event,” which Keller says includes “deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.”

She cited a company study and a U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) study she says “found that the risk of blood clots for new users of NuVaRing is similar to the risk for new users of” combined oral contraceptives.

She also said “all [combined hormonal contraceptives], including NuVaRing, have a Boxed Warning on the increased risk of serious cardiovascular events.” She pointed to how “the FDA-approved patient information and the physician package labeling for NuVaRing” have provided such information “since the product was approved in 2001.” Keller says updates were made in October 2013 to account for how NuVaRing's new users are at “similar ... risk [of blood clots]” as “new users of combined oral contraceptives.”

In a previous e-mail correspondence, Merck spokesperson Keller did tell LifeSiteNews that out of 10,000 women who might take NuVaRing and are not on “combined hormonal contraceptives” (CHC), a year later “1 to 5 of these women will develop a VTE.”

She also told LifeSiteNews that “if 10,000 women who use a CHC” do so in addition to using NuVaRing, “3 to 12 women will develop a VTE.” Women at highest risk are those “who are postpartum,” meaning 12 weeks past delivery. Of 10,000 women, “40 to 65 will develop a VTE” in one year.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), generations of contraceptives are separated by hormonal types and dosages, as well as time of release. WHO says “pills with first-generation progestogens are more likely to produce unacceptable side-effects,” and were released over 40 years ago. Second-generation contraceptives were put on the market in the 1970s, and third-generation in the 1980s. WHO says second-generation contraceptives are more expensive, but “are similar in terms of effectiveness and of side-effects.”

Henry believes “the FDA should make [Merck] beef up their warning label, so women will think twice about using NuVaRing.” She also says “doctors are unaware of [NuVaRing's] dangers, so it is frightening to think what the consequences may be for patients if the doctor does not seem to have any worry about the risks.”

The Merck settlement offer comes at a time of increased public awareness about the dangers of contraception, including a documentary from TV star Ricki Lake about hormonal contraceptives and a 10,000-word essay in Vanity Fair about the NuVaRing lawsuit.

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Lisa Bourne

‘You can’t have’ marriage equality ‘without polygamy’

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By Lisa Bourne

July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage,” a Montana polygamist has filed for a second marriage license, so he can be legally wed to two women at once.

"It's about marriage equality," said Nathan Collier, using homosexual advocates’ term to support marriage redefinition. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Collier, who has has appeared on the TLC reality show Sister Wives with his legal wife Victoria, and his second wife Christine, said he was inspired by the dissent in the Supreme Court decision.

The minority Supreme Court justices said in Friday’s ruling it would open the door to both polygamy and religious persecution.

“It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

Collier and his wives applied for a second marriage license earlier this week at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, a report from the Salt Lake Tribune said.

Collier, who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for polygamy, married Victoria in 2000 and had a religious wedding ceremony with Christine in 2007. The three have seven children between them and from previous relationships.

"My second wife Christine, who I'm not legally married to, she's put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy," Collier said.

Yellowstone County officials initially denied the application before saying they would consult with the County Attorney and get him a final answer.

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Bigamy, the holding of multiple marriage licenses, is illegal all 50 states, but Collier plans to sue if his application is denied. Officials expect to have an answer for him next week.

While homosexual “marriage” supporters have long insisted legalization of same-sex unions would not lead to polygamy, pro-life and family advocates have warned all along it would be inevitable with the redefinition of marriage.

“The next court cases coming will push for polygamy, as Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his dissent,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, after the Supreme Court ruling. “The chief justice said “the argument for polygamy is actually stronger than that for ‘gay marriage.’ It’s only a matter of time.”

In a piece from the Washington Times, LifeSiteNews Editor-in-Chief and the co-founder of Voice of the Family John-Henry Westen stated the move toward legal polygamy is “just the next step in unraveling how Americans view marriage.”

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Chris Christie: Clerks must perform same-sex ‘marriages’ regardless of their religious beliefs

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By Ben Johnson

TRENTON, NJ, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Chris Christie is not known for nuance. This time, he has turned his fiery personality loose on county clerks and other officials who have religious objections to performing same-sex “marriages.”

In a tone usually reserved for busting teachers' unions, Christie told clerks who hold traditional values, “You took the job, and you took the oath.” He would offer no exemption for an individual whose conscience would not allow him to participate in a union the vast majority of the world's religions deem sinful.

“When you go back and re-read the oath it doesn’t give you an out. You have to do it,” he said.

He told a reporter that there “might” be “individual circumstances” that “merit some examination, but none that come immediately to mind for me.”

“I think for folks who are in the government world, they kind of have to do their job, whether you agree with the law or you don’t,” the pugnacious governor said.

Since the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to legalize homosexual “marriage” last Friday, elected officials have grappled with how to safeguard the rights of those who have deeply held religious beliefs that would not allow them to participate in such a ceremony.

Christie's response differs markedly from other GOP hopefuls' responses to the Supreme Court ruling. Mike Huckabee, for instance, has specifically said that clerks should have conscience rights. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order granting such rights and ordered clerks to wait until a pending court case was fully adjudicated before any clerk issues a marriage license to a homosexual couple.

Christie gave up a legal appeal after a superior court judge struck down his state's voter-approved constitutional marriage protection amendment. New Jersey is the only state where such a low court overturned the will of the voters.

The decision to ignore conscience rights adds to the growing number of Christie's positions that give conservatives pause.

The natural locus of support for a Christie 2016 presidential run is the Republican's socially liberal donor class, for personal as well as political reasons. His wife works on Wall Street, and some of the GOP's high-dollar donors – including Paul Singer – have courted Christie for years.

However, this year Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser degree Scott Walker have eclipsed Christie as the preferred candidates of the boardroom donors – who sometimes prefer Democrats to Republicans.

Christie also used language during a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, which concerned some major GOP donors.

Christie is reportedly spending this weekend with Mitt Romney and his family at Romney's New Hampshire home. Romney declined to enter the 2016 race himself and may be able to open his donor list to Christie's struggling campaign.

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After having a girl with Down syndrome, this couple adopted two more

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By Ben Johnson

LINO LAKE, MN, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – For most people, having five biological children would have been enough. In fact, for many Americans, large families are treated as a scandal or a burden.

But one family made the decision, not just to have a large family, but to give a home to some of the most vulnerable children in the world: Girls born overseas with Down syndrome.

Lee and Karen Shervheim love all seven of their children, biological or otherwise. Undeterred by having twin boys – Daniel and Andrew, 18 – they had Sam four years later.

They now have three daughters who are all 11 years old. All three have Down syndrome.

And two of them are adopted.

About the time their eight-year-old son, David, was born, Lee and Karen decided to adopt a child with Down syndrome to be a companion to their daughter, Annie.

They made the further unexpected choice to adopt a child from Eastern Europe with the help of Reece's Rainbow, which helps parents adopt children with Down syndrome.

“Between my wife and I, we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Lee told the Quad City Press. “So many children need families and we knew we could potentially do something about it.”

After originally deciding to adopt Katie, they spent six weeks in Kiev, visiting an orphanage in nearby Kharkov. While there, they decided they may have room in their heart, and their home, for another child.

When they saw a picture of Emie striking the same pose as their biological daughter in one of their photographs, they knew they would come home with two children.

Both girls were the same age as their Annie. She would not lack for companionship, as they worried.

Lee said after the Ukrainian government – finally – completed the paperwork, they returned to the United States, when the real challenges began.

“The unvarnished truth,” Lee told the Press, is that adopting the Russian-speaking special needs children “was really disruptive to our family. They came with so many issues that we had not anticipated.”

After teaching them sign language and appropriate behavior, they moved to Lino Lake, Minnesota and found a new support group in Eagle Brook Church. There they found personal assistance and spiritual solace.

Every year in the past seven years has been better and better, they say.

“I think my girls can do almost anything they want to do,” he said, “and that’s what I want to help them become.”

The family's devotion is fueled by their faith, and it informs the sense of humor Lee showed in a tweet during the 2014 midterm elections:

It takes a special person to believe in the potential of the “mentally retarded,” as they were once labeled. Today, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb will be aborted. The percentage is higher in some countries. Some have even spoken of "a world without people with Down syndrome."

Their God, and their experience, tell them that every child has infinite worth and potential, Lee told local media, and he would encourage anyone to follow his footsteps and adopt a Down syndrome child – or two.

“The message is that it really doesn’t matter where you started or where you came from,” Lee said. “There are endless opportunities for everyone, whether they have disabilities or not. They deserve a shot.”

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