All that Yaz: Should We Get Rid of Birth Control Pills?

BlogHer Original Post

When it was introduced, Yasmin (and its sidekick, Yaz) was not just a birth control pill, but a girl's best friend. I mean, other pills have clinical names, like Necon 7/7/7 (my pill) or Lo-Ovral (my former pill) or Ortho TriCyclen (my former former pill) or Alesse (my former former former pill), so it's clear that they are just medicines. I didn't think I was going to hang out and talk about boys with Lo-Ovral, but I might with Yaz. Yaz is a person's name. It's kicky. I can trust my friend Yaz.

Or can I? Some women in Canada, which approved the drugs in 2004 and 2008 respectively, are now suing Yasmin's/Yaz's parent, Bayer. According to CTV News, they believe that the drugs carry higher risks than other types of birth control pills and that they were not adequately warned about these additional potential problems. These problems are serious, ranging from "racing hearts, strokes and, in some cases, gallbladder problems leading to surgery," says CTV News. Over 1,100 lawsuits have already been filed in the U.S. In fact, more than one law firm even has a blog dedicated to tracking the activity.

What really fascinates me, though, are the different faces of Yasmin and Yaz. The U.S. site shows a picture of a pretty black woman and otherwise is filled with cryptic warnings about the drug and its side effects. We here in the U.S. really like to sue people, so I suppose that makes sense. The international site, "intended to provide information to an international audience outside the USA and UK," welcomed me, flashed pictures of different light-skinned women and posed some questions about what birth control could do for me other than, ya know, control my ability to conceive. Canadians can only access the site by entering their DIN information (in English or Francaise). Since I pretty much only read English, I had can only guess that the site for Argentina, which featured a super-taut woman with a measuring tape around her flat stomach and enormous tits (but without a measuring tape), said that Yasmin won't make you fat. (Since there wasn't a measuring tape around her bust, my guess is that it does not give you ginormous boobs.) That was it. There was no info on side effects. Volveremos pronto, indeed!

Close-up of birth control pills in two plastic tablet dispenser cases

For some, the Yaz/Yasmin situation is re-opening a dialogue about birth control pills. Is anyone surprised that a controlled substance that alters a normally functioning human body has some unintended consequences? Should women be on the Pill at all if it can harm us? What other alternatives are there? I loved Autumn's reflective essay on birth control pills (and her dedication to the women who were unwitting guinea pigs when the drug was tested in the 1950s) at Insurgent's Ink. Emily at Mommin' It Up rants about how birth control pills suck. Bitches Get Stuff Done has quite a bit to say on why the Pill is evil.

On the flip side, I've been on the Pill for 15 years, and while I definitely notice some side effects (like, it may be effective in preventing pregnancy because it lowers the old sex drive), I'm glad that it is an option. I also don't get my period regularly, due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, so I take the Pill to bring it on. While not getting a period sounds great, it actually leads to an increase in various kinds of reproductive cancers. I know that there are other ways to regulate one's period, but those have risks and side effects too, and let's face it, the Pill has the added benefit of preventing me from getting knocked up, regardless of how it does it. So I'm a fan of the Pill.

Still, as Yaz and Yasmin show, the Pill is not everyone's friend. It's crucial for women (and men, too) to have understandable, comprehensive information about the benefits and risks of any medicine they take. Outright fraud by drug manufacturers needs to be punished far more severely than it currently is. (My friend was a statistician at a big pharmaceutical company and what she told me is terrifying. First, they manipulate the stats to make a drug look less harmful than it might be. Then, drug makers calculate how much money they can make before the lawsuits hit. If the profit is good enough, they go ahead, regardless of the harm done.) This isn't medicine, and it doesn't serve anyone.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.

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