By Mike Gaskins
When we think of Billings Ovulation Method and Natural Family Planning, we should never discount the importance of that word “natural,” especially when considered as an alternative to birth control. In business terms, it’s a selling point that can never be overstated. In social terms, it’s a tenet of the Method that’s easily underestimated.
It is the inherent un-naturalness of hormonal birth control and its subsequent complications that accentuate this important point. I’m grateful not only for what you offer as BOM instructors, but for what you may prevent.
Nelson Pill Hearings
Nearly 50 years ago, Senator Gaylord Nelson chaired congressional hearings that focused exclusively on hormonal birth control. His goal was to address two principle concerns:
Sen. Nelson opened the hearings with the stated objective: “to present for the general public’s benefit the best and most objective information available.” In the process, they covered a shockingly diverse list of side effects and complications that sent the nation into a panic. Women across the country began calling their doctors asking to be taken off The Pill.
When Pill proponents criticized Sen. Nelson for creating a panic, he shot back that if women had been warned about the dangers before being prescribed, they wouldn’t be alarmed hearing about them now.
As a result of the hearings, The Pill became the first drug in history required to contain a patient information booklet in the package. Otherwise, not a lot has changed since those days on Capitol Hill in 1970.
I cover the Nelson Pill Hearings in greater detail in my book In the Name of The Pill, but for the sake of brevity, I’d like to look at just four of the side effects discussed at the hearings and make a case for why I think it’s time to bring The Pill back to the Hill.
Then - The hearings discussed a groundbreaking British study that uncovered a 7.5-fold increased risk of death from stroke.
Now - In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that some current formulations of combination oral contraceptives can double a woman’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke
[ http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1111840?query=featured_home]. It’s also worth noting that in 2016, Bayer, the maker of today’s most popular brands, Yaz/Yasmin, paid out $2.04 billion to settle over 10,000 blood clot-related lawsuits. [https://www.drugwatch.com/yaz/settlements/].
Then - The first major headlines of the hearings came when Dr. Roy Hertz proclaimed, “[Estrogens] are to breast cancer what fertilizer is to the wheat crop.”
Dr. Max Cutler testified that 1 out of every 20 women will develop breast cancer sometime during her life. Dr. Hugh Davis added, “Now, there are some 75 to 80,000 women in this country per year who are developing diagnosed carcinoma of the breast. If the chronic taking of steroid hormones eventually increased this by only 10 percent, we would have a very, very hazardous situation on our hands…”
Now - We have witnessed a 210% increase! 1 in every 8 women will develop breast cancer in her life. Over 268,000 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year [https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics].
Then - Dr. Giles Bole Jr. described a rare disease called lupus to the senators. He was beginning to see this older person’s disease among young women who recently started on birth control. Dr. Herbert Ratner later testified that an estimated 1 out of every 2,000 birth control users developed lupus.
Now - In 1999, Arthritis and Rheumatology published a report that concluded the incidence of lupus had tripled in the past 40 years, and 90% of the diagnoses are women [https://www.uptodate.com/contents/epidemiology-and-pathogenesis-of-systemic-lupus-erythematosus].
A decade later, in 2009, scientists from McGill University in Montreal released the results of a massive population study. They collected data on 1.7 million women and found that women on oral contraceptives were 50% more likely to develop lupus [https://www.webmd.com/lupus/news/20090413/birth-control-pills-may-raise-lupus-risk#1].
Depression & Suicide
Then – Barbara Seaman warned that many doctors believed “that suicide, not blood clots, may, in fact, be the leading cause of Pill deaths.” Dr. Francis Kane testified at the hearings that 1 out of every 3 Pill users showed depressive personality changes, and a little more than 1 out of every 20 became suicidal. He added that women on birth control had “distinctly higher scores,” meaning not only were more of them getting depressed, but they were also experiencing greater depression.
Now - Fast forward to 2016, Danish researchers conducted a cohort study of 1 million young women, and discovered that women taking hormonal birth control were 70% more likely to develop depression. One year later, a continuation of the same study revealed that women on birth control more than tripled their risk of committing suicide [http://time.com/5030447/birth-control-side-effects-suicide/]!
Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Nelson Pill Hearings. These four side effects represent only a small sample of what was discussed at the hearings, but I think they alone should be sufficient for us to demand that they bring The Pill back to the Hill. It’s time for new hearings focused on answering the same two questions:
I’m sure many of you have already heard about the side effects of hormonal contraceptives from your patients, and here is something you can do now to make a difference. A group of physicians and women’s health advocates have petitioned the FDA to include new black box warnings on these contraceptives. This petition is open for public comment until November 2019. Please add your comment and encourage your patients who have had negative side effects to add theirs by clicking on this link: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FDA-2019-P-2289-0001&fbclid=IwAR3B0ox9-SOcOKbQASz2v4yB37HS7yvPJ04VBaVVrapffSxUCwSTwTUw9bQ
Mike works as a writer/producer in all forms of media. His recently published book, In the Name of The Pill, examines the powerful forces that gave us birth control before it was proven safe, exposes the deceptive tactics used to keep patients in the dark, and explores the numerous ways women’s health has been sacrificed in the name of The Pill.
BOMA-USA provides education and training for The Billings Ovulation Method® which is a natural method of fertility management that teaches you to recognize the body's natural signs of fertility.