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SHORT AND BORDLEE: The high cost of free contraceptives

Mandated drugs can threaten a woman’s health

Take this quiz: What well-known family of drugs (a) is classified by the World Health Organization as "Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans" and (b) provides "tremendous health benefits for women." If you answered "combined oral contraceptives," you are well-qualified to work for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

In February, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a fact sheet accompanying the empty and meaningless "accommodation" proposed for religious employers under the HHS mandate that requires coverage of all Food and Drug Administration-approved "contraceptives," some of which are capable of terminating the life of a human being at the embryonic stage of development. In the fact sheet, Mrs. Sebelius claims, "The [Institute of Medicine] recommended covering contraception without a co-pay or deductible because there are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception."

You won't get your lifesaving heart pills or Lipitor for free, but our government is incentivizing the use of hormonal contraceptive and abortifacient drugs at absolutely no cost to women and their daughters the minute they reach puberty.

What are the "tremendous health benefits" to which Health and Human Services is referring? The benefits of not being pregnant, of course. Because the Obama administration views fertility and pregnancy as diseases, hormonal contraceptive and abortifacient drugs have been elevated to "preventive health care" that must be included in every health plan, including those provided by employers with religious objections.

More than 40 lawsuits currently pending that challenge the HHS mandate focus on the religious-liberty violations of the U.S. government against private employers and religious institutions. The plaintiffs rightly argue that the government has no compelling interest in coercing religious objectors to pay for their employees' contraceptives and abortifacients, while exempting many large employers with political clout from having to comply with Obamacare at all.

However, the important debate over religious freedom is obscuring the equally important foundational question of whether the contraceptive mandate actually promotes women's health. This is the focus of the amicus brief being filed in HHS-mandate lawsuits across the nation on behalf of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, Bioethics Defense Fund and Life Legal Defense Foundation. This brief exposes the ideologically based misinformation in the Institute of Medicine report and highlights studies the government completely ignored in reaching its flawed conclusions.

The institute's report naively asserted that increasing access to contraceptives by reducing the cost to zero would decrease rates of unintended pregnancy. For more than four decades, federal and state governments have been pouring money into "family planning" programs based on that exact premise. Our brief informs courts of empirical evidence showing the result: a 40 percent increase in unplanned pregnancy, including among teens and low-income women, the very demographic targeted by these programs. Quite predictably, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases have also skyrocketed in these groups, as the false security of abundant birth control leads to riskier sexual activity by teens and young adults.

While playing up the supposed negative health consequences of unintended pregnancies, the institute's report also ignored the large body of medical evidence showing that women are put at significantly increased risk of many serious diseases when they use contraception -- even methods on the FDA-approved list. Studies show that hormonal contraceptives have biological properties that significantly increase women's risks of breast, cervical and liver cancer, as well as strokes and other diseases, including HIV.

In these studies, significant means significant. For example, a 2009 study showed a 320 percent increase in the risk of triple-negative breast cancer, the deadliest form of breast cancer, in women taking oral contraceptives. Long-acting contraceptives -- such as one major implant rod, Implanon -- increase risk of ectopic pregnancy, pulmonary emboli and strokes. Implanon is the product that replaced Norplant, which is no longer on the market in the United States after more than 50,000 women filed lawsuits -- including 70 class actions -- over the severity of its side effects. Injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera puts women at double the risk of HIV infection; when it is used by HIV-positive women, their male partners are twice as likely to become infected than if the women had used no contraception.

Ironically, many of the studies establishing these health risks have been funded, and in some cases conducted, by agencies of the U.S. government. A decent respect for intellectual integrity would seem to require that these studies should at least have been considered and balanced against the alleged "tremendous health benefits" of contraceptives, yet they were entirely ignored.

The only "tremendous" benefit from this coercive action by our government is the teachable moment that it gives us to educate ourselves and our families about the false claims and increased risks of a drug class that increases the risk of cancer and other diseases, facilitates the sexual exploitation of women and girls, and has the capability of terminating the life of human beings at the earliest stages. If the rationale behind it is exposed for the fraud that it is, the HHS mandate will take its rightful place in history's ash heap of irrational social experiments.

Catherine W. Short is legal director for Life Legal Defense Foundation (lldf.org). Dorinda C. Bordlee is senior counsel for Bioethics Defense Fund (BDFund.org).

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