Posts Tagged ‘birth control’

Doing ’40 to Life’ After Roe v. Wade

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
“The clawlike appendages that kept the Dalkon Shield in place made removal painful and could perforate the uterus” — Wired Photo by Jamie Chung; IUD Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum/Case Western Reserve University


The landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which made most abortions safe and legal, was handed down 40 years ago this week. That  same month, I discovered I had gotten pregnant while implanted with the most toxic and dangerous contraceptive device ever put on the market. The Dalkon Shield, in its whirlwind tour of death and destruction, led me to share this fateful anniversary in a way I can never forget.


By Emily Theroux

Last month, I read an unnerving article on RH Reality, a website that champions reproductive health and rights. A young law student who lived with her boyfriend and conscientiously practiced contraception had become pregnant two years after implantation with an intrauterine device. “As effective as tying your tubes,” NW had been assured by the gynecologist who inserted it.

Just as I did at her age, NW took every precaution possible to prevent an unplanned pregnancy while avoiding the risk of blood clots, strokes, cardiovascular disease, and other potential side effects of the birth-control pills she had relied on previously.

(I had also begun taking the pill when I was a virginal 18, riding a Greyhound bus to Planned Parenthood in Rochester from Brockport, the Erie Canal town where I went to college. Once there, I lied about my marital status, after a friend advised me that the clinic only prescribed the pill to married women. I was serious about my education and had no intention of getting “knocked up” during freshman year, at the heady but terrifying dawn of the sexual revolution — when, as vulgar as it sounds in plain English, there were times when you couldn’t be absolutely certain who the father was.)

After an urgent-care clinic confirmed the results of NW’s home pregnancy test, she and her boyfriend, who definitely weren’t ready for marriage, much less an infant, agonized over scheduling an abortion at Planned Parenthood. About her failed ParaGard IUD, NW said:

“It still isn’t clear what I should do about the tiny piece of metal inside me. It seems dangerous now. For so long it was a faithful friend, but now it’s a foreign object lodged next to embryonic cells inside of me — I can’t believe that’s good for anyone. But the urgent care doctor just says call my doctor and take some prenatal vitamins. … My IUD is still there, and I’m pregnant.”

In NW’s case, an OB-GYN removed her IUD a week before the abortion. But back in December 1972, when I  unwittingly became pregnant while supposedly “protected” by a similar device — the horrific Dalkon Shield — the doctors told me they left that accursed thing in place throughout a woman’s pregnancy, for fear of miscarriage, which too often resulted anyway.


A Pandora’s box of sepsis, infertility, miscarriage, and death

The Dalkon Shield, an early intrauterine device, would never have been sold if medical devices had been vetted by the FDA at the time. Its fatal design flaws killed at least 18 women between 1971 (when it was introduced by the A.H. Robins Co. and aggressively and fraudulently marketed, despite its manufacturer’s full awareness of serious safety issues) and 1974, when it was finally taken off the market after Robins was swamped by consumer complaints.

Many of the Shield’s 200,000 victims experienced severe pain and bleeding, or suffered perforations in the uterine wall that allowed the device to “migrate” into the abdominal cavity. Others contracted deadly streptococcal infections from its multifilament tailstring, which had a known propensity for “wicking” any pathogenic bacteria that might appear in the vaginal flora into the uterus, which is normally a sterile chamber.

Numerous victims developed pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) after the sepsis spread to their fallopian tubes and ovaries. Most recovered after taking antibiotics, but in rare cases, the infection was so severe that hysterectomy was the only solution. In addition, scar tissue and adhesions left behind by the ravages of PID caused infertility in many Dalkon Shield wearers (and even led to occlusion of the fallopian tubes, which sometimes resulted in life-threatening ectopic pregnancies).

My sweet college friend Alfia contracted a raging infection from the string of her IUD and nearly died during a harrowing two-week hospitalization. Alfie, who grew up in a large Greek/Italian family, was devastated by the prospect that she might never bear a single child. Years later, by some miracle, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, now a young woman herself.

“The greatest danger came when a Dalkon Shield wearer became pregnant,” wrote Russell Mokhiber in 1987. Pregnancy could lead to severe infections, miscarriages, stillbirths, and death.” Some pregnant women suffered spontaneous septic abortions when the device was pulled upward as their wombs expanded. The bacteria attacked the placenta, ending in the death of the fetus and, in some cases, the mother.

Despite the continuing horror, Robins waited until 1980  to recommend that doctors remove the Shield from the wombs of unafflicted women who were still wearing it. The company (which also manufactured popular brands like ChapStick and Robitussin) was nailed with more than 400,000 lawsuits after covering up what had mushroomed into a global women’s health crisis. Robins declared bankruptcy in 1985, and a trust for the victims later paid out almost $3 billion.


The month Roe made abortion legal, I learned I was pregnant

I didn’t find out I was “with child” until January 1973, the same month the Supreme Court decided, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, that most laws against abortion violated a constitutional right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

I was 22 and had married way too young. I had also experimented with LSD and other drugs considered “recreational” as well as enlightening in our countercultural campus milieu. I became panicky over the prospect of chromosomal abnormalities that might result from our generation’s willful ingestion of hallucinogens, and tormented by guilt over the amoral predilections of our time. What if we had doomed our own progeny by taking psychedelics?

My first husband and I had been married just two years. None of our friends believed in matrimony then; “shacking up” or living communally were the custom. Surrounded as we were by practitioners of free love, our relationship had become shaky and vulnerable. We had talked about eventually having a baby, but I wasn’t yet convinced it was wise to bring a child into a world that had been poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation since before I was born. (It took my husband six more years — aided by my ticking biological clock — to persuade me to gamble on whether our offspring would make it to adulthood. Our only child, Gabriel, who was joyously welcomed to the planet in September 1979, pulled through just fine.)

That first pregnancy, however, had been different. I hadn’t asked for this, and I was furious with fate. As in NW’s case, my doctor had convinced me of the IUD’s effectiveness. Having to make this decision seemed brutally unfair. I didn’t anticipate or plan for this pregnancy as I later did with my son — recording when I ovulated, eating nutritious food, swearing off wine and caffeine, taking iron and calcium and prenatal vitamins, never smoking a joint or a cigarette, refraining from swallowing so much as an aspirin. Furthermore, I had never been careless with my reproductive cycle, and this was not even supposed to be on the horizon yet.


This is not a celebration, but a beacon for our common future

Anxious and moody, my system deluged by hormones, I fantasized about keeping what might some day develop into a living, breathing human child, if I simply let it be. Most of the time, I could only bear to imagine the baby as a fragile cluster of cells, straining implausibly towards viability. Soon enough, I would make a conscious choice to extinguish its Qi — in Chinese, its life force — like a tiny, flickering candle.

I was positive by then that this hapless child wouldn’t even make it to term — and it turned out I was right to worry. Women who conceived while the Dalkon Shield was implanted suffered a 60 percent miscarriage rate, according to three books cited on; many of the pregnancies that weren’t aborted, either naturally or medically, resulted in premature births and severe birth defects, the authors claimed, and I haven’t yet been able to confirm the accuracy of their statistics, if that’s even possible

In retrospect, it may have been some kind of grace or absolution from someone else’s God — a deity I don’t have faith in and will never understand — that I didn’t “choose life” and go through with the pregnancy.

With great chagrin and trepidation, I took what, for me, eventually became the more difficult path, resolving to have an early-term abortion in February 1973, at eight weeks’ gestation. It’s a decision I scrutinize and thrash out in nightsweats to this day, especially on this sobering anniversary.

Nobody’s dancing or clapping here. Forty years ago, for what I deemed with my best judgment at the age of 22 to be good reason, I underwent one of the first legal abortions, in a large city hospital devoid of protesters. I wouldn’t deny that right to any other woman who believes, in the privacy of her own heart where no one else has license to trespass, that she is doing the right thing for her body, her spirit, her family, her moral compass, and her life.

None of us makes such an agonizing decision lightly. No woman that I’ve ever met is “pro-abortion.”

Our consciences come in various shades of gray; mine may sometimes verge on a starless, sooty black, but I don’t wallow there for long. Life calls me back. I have a son, born radiant, healthy, and intact six years later, and a beautiful, kind daughter-in-law. I have two stepchildren, one of whom I talk to long-distance nearly every day, the other turning 24 today. I have three little grandchildren, all under five years old. The babies that I have need a grandmother’s hugs and singing, poems and laughter.

I have good reason now, at the age of 62, to run out and greet the rest of my life, to embrace it with open arms.

Enough is Enough from Rush!

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Rush Limbaugh … 30 years of vile attacks

By Emily Theroux

Earlier this week, a Facebook acquaintance posted a comment under one of my recent political rants that absolutely astounded me. Following Rush Limbaugh’s recent three-day “slut-shaming” of law student Sandra Fluke for daring to testify before a House subcommittee about the high cost of birth control for uninsured women, I stayed up very late Sunday night, venting about Limbaugh’s galling hypocrisy in the face of his own infamous excesses. The next morning, I discovered a single reply from a woman who had never posted anything more controversial on my page than occasional praise of my dog or my grandchildren.

“As a journalist,” she offered, “wouldn’t it be good research to go back and actually listen to his show and hear exactly what was said, rather than repeat what people thought he said? He made his point with humor, albeit he took it to the extreme. Like it or not, it made for some GREAT radio.” She then added a rhetorical question: “When did having babies become considered a disease?” and ended her reproach with a snarky personal remark: “And speaking of babies, post more photos of your beautiful grandbabies. That we can all agree on.”

After letting her post simmer on my Facebook wall for most of that day, she inexplicably deleted it just as I was about to post a heated reply. That gave me time to ponder whether to make any kind of retort at all. I decided in favor of responding because I really don’t think anyone who has listened to the degrading, vicious, defamatory things that Rush Limbaugh has said about women and minorities for the past 30 years can let his lies, grandstanding, and verbal projectile vomiting — or his apologists’ weak excuses for his behavior — go unchallenged this time.

I always research whatever I’m planning to post on a public forum, I wanted to tell her. I listened to what Limbaugh said so many times that it’s some trick I didn’t puke all over my keyboard. He repeatedly lied that Fluke testified about her own sex life and that she said she was having so much sex, she couldn’t afford to pay for her own birth control pills — indeed, so much sex that he didn’t see how she could still walk. I didn’t find this to be anything approximating “entertainment” or “great radio.”

I also carefully listened to Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s House subcommittee. Fluke never once mentioned her own sex life; she actually devoted most of her testimony to explaining the difficulty many Georgetown students have paying for birth control pills they are prescribed to treat medical conditions that have nothing to do with pregnancy. Fluke described at length the plight of another Georgetown student who had been paying out of pocket for oral contraceptives prescribed to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome and eventually lost one of her ovaries when she could no longer afford to pay for the medication.

I heard exactly what Limbaugh said for three days — every lie, every vile taunt, every nonsensical mathematical “calculation” (suggesting, for example, that by dividing his hugely exaggerated “cost” figure for birth control pills by the number of “coeds” enrolled at Georgetown University (all of them promiscuous, of course), he would arrive at an estimate that each female student who took birth control pills must be having sex at least three times a day! Never mind the fact that you don’t take any more birth control pills if you have sex three times a day than if you have sex once a month — or never).

I sat through every vile taunt, every slander, every obscenity, every ad hominem attack, every cruel characterization of women who use birth control, whom he portrays as slavering nymphomaniacs. Limbaugh’s “remarks,” if you want to call them that, were in no sense humorous, nor were they ambiguous. Whether he rattled on for three days to boost his ratings or to give the Republican war on women a “plug” — or whether he even actually believes the things he says — is immaterial. I say it’s high time he shuts his big fat mouth. I signed a petition yesterday to that effect; if I can find it again, I’ll post that on Facebook, too.

As for the mystifying bit about how liberals consider having babies “a disease” (which Limbaugh himself said on his radio show later that day), that’s disingenuous hooey. I certainly never defined the “diseases” birth control is used to treat as human embryos, simply because certain kinds of birth control function by preventing implantation of fertilized ova. What I said is that, in addition to preventing pregnancy, oral contraceptives are also prescribed to treat women who have any of a wide range of real diseases or medical conditions that have nothing to do with the prevention of pregnancy.

I also said that employers who refuse to provide health insurance coverage for oral contraceptives because they are opposed to birth control for reasons of faith or conscience do not appear to take their non-contraceptive applications into consideration. Maybe we need some new names for these drugs that would differentiate their various uses, so that while politicians and “entertainers” are lobbing this issue at their opponents for electoral or monetary gain, the rest of us would at least know what they were really talking about.

Finally, being advised to post more photos of my grandchildren on Facebook struck me as a little condescending. It felt like being told to hie myself back to the kitchen and keep my nose out of the business of menfolk — although my Facebook friend was probably just trying to end her criticism on a positive note by paying me what she considered a compliment.

Women, like men, may originally have been put on earth by God or nature to reproduce; if that is so, I think I have done an admirable enough job of it. But I was also born with a brain and have elected to use it. Rush Limbaugh made a point of punishing a woman who dared to do exactly that by spending three days “putting her in her place.” The problem with me — and I suspect, with Sandra Fluke — is that some of us don’t tend to stay put very well.

Emily Theroux, a Middletown resident and former magazine editor at The Times Herald-Record, writes occasional political commentary on social media sites.

Kiss My Apology, Rush says

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page
I think Rush Limbaugh’s apology was no apology at all, and that decent people everywhere ought to make a list of the sponsors who have dropped from his program, and direct their business to them.

As you doubtless know by this time, Limbaugh used his nationwide radio show to slander Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University as a slut, a prostitute, and as a roundheel – a woman, my dictionary says, who yields readily to sexual intercourse. His tirade was the result of Fluke’s testifying before a congressional committee about the high cost of contraceptives to people with limited means.

Limbaugh was having none of it. “Your daughter… testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills and she wants President Obama to provide them, or the Pope,” Limbaugh blathered. President Obama? The Pope? What is this man talking about?

Limbaugh, revealing a magnificent ignorance, likened Fluke’s request for affordable birth control to her asking taxpayers to pay her to have sex. Therefore, in Limbaugh’s twisted view of the world, Fluke is a prostitute. Sheer lunacy.

“What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke,” Limbaugh asked his audience. And he couldn’t even get her name right. She’s not Susan.

Some sponsors quit, and a chastened Limbaugh decided he would apologize. Let’s parse his regrets.

“For over 20 years,” Limbaugh said, “I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity [Meaning that Fluke’s congressional testimony was “absurd,” a request for an inexpensive product to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease? How could such a request be called absurd?] three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words [Which words would have been the right words? He doesn’t say.] in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. [He describes a woman he has never met, never heard of, as a slut and a prostitute and then declares he meant no personal attack? If not a personal attack, what would he call it? He doesn’t say.]

Limbaugh then forgets about his insult to Fluke. He forgets about the disgrace he brought on himself, and speaks 118 words decrying the fact that here we are in a presidential election year and we’re talking about sex.

“My choice of words,” Limbaugh says, “was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.” His words were not the best but he slithers out of saying which words would have been more appropriate. He smeared a young woman’s reputation and standing in an attempt to be – humorous? Humorous, as in a joke? That’s about as funny as making jokes about Limbaugh and Oxycontin.

An apology? It wasn’t even a good imitation of one.

Did you believe him?

* * * * *

My friend Farber sent me a collection of witty bumper stickers, and I got the biggest kick out of this one: Annoyed by Immigrants? Tell it to the Indians.

CPAC, Fidel and the GOP

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Fidel Castro ... no fan of GOP field

By Bob Gaydos
Do you get the feeling that a lot of Republicans just don’t like Mitt Romney? Or Rick Santorum? That they can’t make up their minds which one is less objectionable to the rest of the country? And does it seem like Republicans have finally got the true measure of Newt Gingrich and see that he really is the opportunistic, self-seeking, mean-spirited, vindictive blowhard that he sounds like every time he has an opportunity? And that, while they can abide Ron Paul, it’s only on days with an “R” in them?

It has been pleasantly quiet lately without a Republican presidential
“debate” every other day. No one shouting, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” or “Hypocrite!” or, “Immigrant-lover!” or, worst of all, “Moderate!”

Yet the primary campaign drones on. Interestingly, the most apt description of this field of screams that I’ve seen comes from out of left field, literally: “The greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been” is the way Fidel Castro put it when asked about the GOP primary campaign.

Yeah, I know all those dyed-in-the-wool, red-white-and-blue, flag-waving, commie-hating, God-fearing, apple-pie-eating, Chevy-driving, heterosexual, over-taxed Republicans who hate the government of the country they love probably don’t give a fig about what the former Cuban dictator thinks about their party. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t right.

That’s a bit of subtlety that seems to be lost on a lot of Republicans these days. When you live in a multi-cultural society, people will have differences of opinion. They need not be based in hate or expressed in hateful language. And people who are different from you may have different opinions on how to go about things. And they may sometimes be right. It makes it really important to learn how to work things out rather than shout ideas down. Too many Republicans don’t seem to get this.

Truth of the matter and Castro aside, a lot of Americans think the candidates the Republicans have put forth to run for president are an insult to the nation and an embarrassment for the party. And Sarah Palin isn’t even part of the conversation. However, her unsuccessful campaign for the vice presidency in 2008 may well have been the catalyst for what has transpired within the GOP: The Coup.

The party of Lincoln is clearly no longer the party of the likes of Rockefeller or Eisenhower or Bush I or Ford or Dole or, for that matter, Reagan. In fact, you hear almost as little about Double R as you do about Bush II from Republicans these days. Last week, the Conservative Political Action Committee held its convention to hear from the GOP candidates to decide where to put its money, which, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is the same as its mouth.

Santorum, fresh off victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, where a handful of ultra-conservative Republicans bothered to show up and cast votes that don’t really count, confidently told the CPAC gathering, “Conservatives and Tea Party folk — we are not just wings of the Republican Party, we are the Republican Party.” Huzzah! Huzzah!

Then they voted to support Romney.

* * *

Another bit of news that cannot go unnoticed: With the GOP candidates mostly silent, the biggest noise of the week came from another group of conservative men — the United States’ Catholic bishops. They felt obliged to give the rest of the country a lecture on sex and conscience. The bishops objected to an Obama administration plan that would require church-related institutions such as hospitals and schools to provide women employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives, free of charge. Churches themselves were exempt. More than 25 states already have such a law in place, guaranteeing that all women, regardless of religion or where they work, have access to free birth control, if they choose to use it.

The bishops, who have been looking for any issue on which to claim the high moral ground ever since paying off hundreds of millions of dollars in claims when priests around the world were discovered to be sexually abusing young boys, seized on objecting to probably the most effective method known to reduce the number of abortions — free birth control. They weren’t even happy when Obama switched the cost to the insurance companies. Everyone was too polite to mention that the bishops didn’t consult any women in voicing their objection or that, according to a Guttmacher poll, 98 percent of Catholic women say they use some form of contraception to practice birth control or for other health reasons.

One assumes, they do so in what they obviously regard as good conscience, never mind common sense.