Here we go again. On Thursday, another male politician revealed his utter ignorance about women’s reproductive health.
This time it was Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor (and 2008 presidential candidate) who is now employed as a Fox News host.
“Republicans don’t have a war on women,” Huckabee said Thursday at a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C. “We’re having a war for women. To empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.
“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it,” he continued. “Let us take that discussion all across America, because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.”
Huckabee seems to be suggesting that a government that ensures women receive easy and inexpensive access to birth control is simply telling those women that they can’t control their libido.
But birth control isn’t about sex, Gov. Huckabee. It’s about women’s health.
Let me review (yet again) why:
The health risks of pregnancy
As I’ve noted in this column before, pregnancy and childbirth pose significant health risks for women — risks that underscore why women need to be able to control if and when they get pregnant. Each year, a staggering 52,000 women in the United States experience severe pregnancy-related medical complications, including cardiac arrest, kidney failure, aneurysms and respiratory distress, and, tragically, about 650 of those women die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
These risks are heightened for women with certain pre-existing conditions, such as heart malformations or clotting or bleeding disorders.
Instead of trying to pass laws that would make it more difficult and expensive for women to get access to effective contraception, our politicians and policymakers should be increasing funding for programs that make pregnancy and childbirth safer.
Other health-related reasons
But birth control is prescribed for many medical reasons other than contraception, a fact that Huckabee’s comments seem to ignore. For example:
- The use of combination birth control pills is associated with a decreased risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer — a benefit that appears to last for up to 20 years after women stop using the pills. Some evidence suggests that birth control pills also lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Women at high risk of these cancers may, therefore, benefit from taking these medications.
- Various combination birth control pills are sometimes used to treat endometriosis, an often painful condition in which tissue normally found in the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the pelvic cavity.
- Birth control pills and birth-control implants have been shown to help relieve or reduce the symptoms of severe menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea). Such pain tends to be most prevalent among women in their teens and twenties, for whom it is the leading cause of missed school and work.
- Different kinds of hormonal birth control are used to reduce abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia). If untreated, such bleeding can lead to anemia.
- Several combination birth control pills have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of acne. The pills help control the production of sebum, a natural skin oil that can clog pores and promote the growth of acne-triggering bacteria.
- Combination birth control pills are also used to treat hirsutism, a condition in which women develop male-pattern hair growth on their face and body. Hirsutism is caused when “male” hormones called androgens reach higher-than-normal levels in women’s bodies. Birth control pills help treat the condition by blocking the production of androgens in the women’s ovaries.
The real issue
As I’ve also reported here before, a 2011 survey from the Guttmacher Institute found that 1.5 million American women rely on birth control pills solely for non-contraceptive purposes. And 58 percent of the women surveyed said they used the pills at least in part for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.
And here’s a statistic from that survey that may stun Huckabee and others who seem to view easy access to birth control as a “moral” issue: About 800,000 women in the United States who take oral contraceptives have never had sex. They’re using the pill mostly to treat acne or to control their menstrual periods and pain associated with those periods.
Government should ensure that women have easy and inexpensive access to birth control. It’s not about believing that women can’t control their libidos. It’s about believing that women deserve quality health care.
As I’ve said here many times before, it’s getting exceedingly tiresome to have to keep pointing this out.