August 08, 2010

life in general: dangers of unwarranted use by women of contraceptive pills

A few weeks back, in mid-May, I wrote an editorial for the publication I work for presently. It was on the dangers that lurk around the use of contraceptive pills by women.

Here is the write-up:

Dangers lurk around the liberating pills

The evolution of the pill could not be—nor should it have been-avoided. Like rapid development in every profession, the medical sciences could not but rapidly come up with the three kinds of pills that are available to be used by women today—regular contraceptive, emergency contraceptive and abortion. But a very critical question to be asked concurrently is: have awareness levels of their usage and the disclosure levels on their packaging been as speedy and efficient?

Like many kinds of consumer products and services, the pill should not be seen or used as a ‘one shoe fits all’ product. The abortion pill, for instance, carries with it the risk of the woman catching a pelvic inflammatory disease that is nothing but the presence of precarious physical effects such as reduced fertility, chronic pelvic pain, future abnormal--usually ectopic (where the foetus implants itself outside the uterine cavity--pregnancies and painful intercourse. Similarly, the emergency contraceptive pill whose purpose is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, if used frequently, say more than once in 3-4 months, can cause disruptions to the woman’s menstrual cycles such that it can even lead to real infertility problems in the future.

What this means is that the side effects of any of the three kinds of pill have different repercussions for different women. The emergency pill might be very attractive for a woman who already has a child and desires no more but is definitely risky for a unmarried or childless married woman who desires not to have an unwanted pregnancy after an act of unprotected sex. The emergency pill is undoubtedly liberating and emancipating for women but only if other forms of protection like condoms were absolutely impossible to use or in cases of sexual crimes where the woman has the right not to undergo further trauma arising from an unwanted pregnancy.

The potential for a dangerous misuse of the abortion pill is still higher. Not only can it cause severe health complications, as we described above, but it can be used, in countries such as ours, to kill the female foetus when the gender of the baby in the womb is identifiable. Abortion pills do away with the need for complex surgical abortion and this makes it easier for the social evil of female foeticide—a crime in many countries including ours—to continue. What makes it worse, or even outright criminal, is the easy availability of abortion pills over the counter even though it is not legally permitted to sell these without a medical practitioner’s prescription.

The issue, therefore, really is about the efforts that are being put by governments, companies, and women themselves, in highlighting the safety issues and monitoring the illegal sale and consumption of the pills. The rural-urban divide does not really exist in this matter as intensely as it does not in other consumer and health products. In our country, urban women, despite being educated and technology savvy with access to the latest and detailed information on the internet and books, are as prone to the dangers of the abuse of the pills as the poor, un-educated women.

In India, the government must ensure that the packaging of the pills carry detailed information of the hormone-altering ingredients and their side effects. The monitoring of the sale of the abortion pills also needs to be the most stringent.

Emancipate, women must. It is their every right. The pills are one useful tool to enable this. But it should be real. There is no emancipation if the men of India, or anywhere else, force their female partners to use the morning after pill purely because they don’t want to wear the condom for whatever reason. Let the pills enable real liberation of women and not add to the anti-woman bias that exists in traditional societies such as India’s.