Contraceptive birth control pills

Credit: Sarah C/starbooze on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–Contraception isn’t simple.

One woman may prefer generic oral contraception pills because she can only afford a short-term, low cost option. Another may ask her doctor to implant a copper intrauterine device, called an IUD, because estrogen-based birth control upsets her hormonal balance. Another may use a diaphragm because she is breastfeeding and wants to protect her milk supply.

For such reasons, Dr. Kerry Griffin, a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist at Medical Center Enterprise, in Enterprise, Ala., welcomes the new health law’s contraceptive mandate.

The mandate is an element of health reform that requires health insurers–or employers that provide their employees with health insurance–to include contraception in their health insurance plans.

Griffin said this element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will help women not only afford contraceptives but also find the ones that are best for them.

"Patients that make too much money for state regulated birth control assistance programs, such as Alabama’s Patient First, will finally get a chance to use higher quality forms of contraception," said Griffin. "For instance, implants and IUDs have the highest level of effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and also offer a variety of non-pregnancy related benefits such as alleviating pain from endometriosis and preventing various forms of cancers. The tides are definitely changing in women’s favor."

Expanding Choices

The tide of contraceptive choice is also moving forward.

A hormonal gel, which can be rubbed on the abdomen daily, is among several contraceptives under development. It may be chosen by women who are more prone to remember to apply a gel and lotion than to take a pill.

The annual vaginal ring is also on the horizon. It is similar to the Nuva Ring, but it lasts a full year instead of three months. The long-term use without the disruption of inserting the device in short intervals is expected to appeal to busy women.

Most women are looking for the best balance between possible health risks and effectiveness. That decision varies from woman to woman, depending on her health issues, long and short term family plans and lifestyle components, such as being a mother already, having a demanding career or, more often than not, both.

For some women, birth control isn’t used solely for the purpose of preventing pregnancy; it can also be used as a medical treatment.

A prime example is that of women who take birth control pills to treat the hormonal disorder polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects one out of every 15 women and can lead to or cause uterine cancer.

Women who don’t realize they suffer from PCOS may not be using the correct form of birth control and can actually increase their risk of developing uterine cancer simply by not using the correct form of birth control, if they are using any birth control at all.

Purely Medical Purposes

"Fourteen percent of women use birth control for purely medical reasons. For these women, access to contraception is a matter of critical health care," said Tara Culp Ressler of the organization Faith in Public Life.

A recent survey revealed that over 2 in 5 women don’t use any form of contraception.

"This survey tells us that a tremendous amount of basic contraceptive education is still needed for women of all ages and their doctors," said Dr. Donnica Moore, president of Sapphire Women’s Health Group in Far Hills, N.J, and a board member of the Society for Women’s Health Research in Washington, D.C.

Medical Center Enterprise’s Griffin, in Alabama, also encourages women to speak up and ask questions about contraception when they visit their doctors.

"I find that the women who enter my office asking the most questions and speaking up out of a sense of curiosity and need-to-know about ‘what is this going to do to my body?’ are the ones who achieve the most positive results because they use their birth control properly," he said. "The patient’s execution is a major component in receiving the best out of contraception."

Christina Caldwell is an independent journalist reporting on issues that affect women worldwide.

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