Next year the executive director of the United Nation´s Population Fund, Thoraya Obaid, wants to spend $946 million on contraceptives and condoms, according to a May 3 press release.
Obaid also projects that by 2015 the money spent on contraceptives should rise to $1.8 billion. Moreover to distribute these products in developing countries the UNFPA calculates that an additional $4 billion is needed in 2002, rising to about $9 billion per year by 2015.
Other initiatives in the area of contraception include efforts to distribute the "morning-after" pill in several countries. In Spain, distribution of this pill will start next Monday, the newspaper ABC reported May 8. The official go-ahead for the pill, given March 23, has provoked a fierce debate with the Catholic Church and others who point out the pill´s abortive nature.
The Association of Catholic Pharmacists is calling upon its members to refuse to sell the morning-after pill. But supporters of the pill have reaffirmed their support and, according to the ABC on May 10, some local authorities plan to distribute it free of charge.
Chile has also seen a debate about the morning-after pill. The government announced March 19 that the pill could be sold by prescription. The announcement, by Health Minister Michelle Bachelet, had the support of President Ricardo Lagos. Following legal battles, however, the courts in April put on hold the decision to distribute the morning-after pill.
And in the United States, the Catholic bishops´ conference reacted strongly to the call by the new head of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Thomas Purdon, to enable easier access to the morning-after pill.
In a statement May 2, Cathleen Cleaver, the bishops´ spokeswoman for pro-life activities, stated: "American women are being misled: This drug will act as an abortifacient, after fertilization has already occurred." She added: "One of the intended actions of this drug is to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, which destroys the young embryo."
Researchers, meanwhile, are busy developing new contraceptives, the Los Angeles Times reported April 23. Among products recently released in the United States are two new hormonal contraceptives: a monthly injection, under the brand name of Lunelle, and a new type of intrauterine device, Mirena, which can be left in place for five years.
The Food and Drug Administration is also studying several other contraceptive devices. These include NuvaRing, a thin, flexible plastic ring containing a combination of estrogen and progestin; Implanon, a single-implant version of the Norplant implant already on sale overseas which will be submitted for FDA approval in 2002; Cyclessa, a low-dose triphasic pill which Organon expects to put on sale this year; and Seasonale, a three-month continuous birth-control pill regimen that is still undergoing tests.
A Canadian study released this week came out in favor of a hormone-secreting patch that can be affixed to some part of the body for a week at a time. The study involved 1,417 women at 45 U.S. and Canadian clinics, according to the Globe and Mail on May 9.
The U.S. pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson paid for the study. The firm hopes to beat its rivals to market with what it calls the Ortho Evra transdermal patch.
Contraceptives also have negative health effects for women. The Los Angeles Times article noted that the new IUD will have problems being accepted due to the experience of the Dalkon Shield. That older IUD was taken off the U.S. market in 1974 after design flaws led to infections, sterility and deaths.
Regarding implants, the article admitted that the widely publicized Norplant, consisting of six small matchstick-sized rods inserted under the skin of the upper arm, has suffered many problems related to difficulties in its insertion and removal.
Last Oct. 11 the Times newspaper of London reported on the results of a study by scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota that showed how the sisters and daughters of breast-cancer patients are more than three times as likely to develop the condition if they take oral contraceptives. The increased risk is in addition to their greater genetic susceptibility to the illness.
The risk of contracting breast cancer is also higher among women who began to take the contraceptive pill before 1975, when it was more likely to contain higher doses of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Other research has supported the link between contraceptives and breast cancer. The December issue of Catholic World Report reported on a book by a Pennsylvania pro-life physician, Dr. Chris Kahlenborn. "Breast Cancer: Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill" analyzes hundreds of medical studies on this matter.
"Based on the most comprehensive medical evidence available, induced abortion and the birth control pill are both independent risk factors for the development of breast cancer," said Kahlenborn. "The risk is especially great if the woman has participated in either of these factors at a young age."
Kahlenborn found that a woman who takes oral contraceptives before her first child is born incurs at least a 40% increased risk of developing breast cancer. If she has taken the birth-control pill for four or more years prior to the birth of her first child, her risk factor increases 72%.
IUDs also lead to serious health problems, recent studies show. According to the Sunday Times on March 4, a team from the University of Oxford Health Research Unit investigated 1,071 childless women, who were monitored from 1982 to 1994. Half were using the pill and the others had a copper wire coil inserted in the womb, the byproducts of which prevent fertilization.
Those who use the IUD for more than six years have little more than a one-in-four chance of having a baby within a year of having it removed, researchers found. They are also at greater risk of having an ectopic pregnancy that ends in miscarriage and can damage fertility.
At least 100,000 IUDs are inserted annually in Britain, mostly in family planning clinics. It has long been recognized that they can cause or worsen the symptoms of sexually transmitted infections that can cause infertility, commented the Sunday Times.
That contraceptives are morally problematic -- they promote a mentality that favors sexual promiscuity -- has been known by the Church. That they are also medically problematic, can only underline the wisdom that, after all, Mother Nature does indeed know best.