IUDs & The Law

Should IUDs be covered under companies’ health insurance policies regarding birth control? Consider the not-so-simple facts.

IUDs

A great article by blog BoingBoing’s science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker, which shows the nuances in the debate around IUDs as birth control.

However, within the first couple of paragraphs I have already found some problematic information:

the IUD, and particularly the ParaGard, is also a form of birth control that nursing mothers can use without affecting their milk supply.

Well, actually, nursing unto itself is a form of birth control! Also know as LAM (Lactational Amenorrhea Method), with regular nursing, a woman can reap contraceptive benefits for up to six months after baby is born. Of course, like any method of birth control, it isn’t foolproof and isn’t convenient for all women (you must feed at very regular intervals, with breast milk as baby’s only nourishment).

Another confusing bit:

Human chorionic gonadotropin is the same hormone that a pregnancy test looks for and it’s present beginning about 7 days after ovulation.

Seven days after ovulation? Are you sure you don’t mean fertilization? Because if hCG were present after ovulation, wouldn’t tons of pregnancy tests come back as false positives?

Reading this article lead me down an online rabbit-hole of reproductive science research. Hey man, it happens to the best of us.

Look at this Discover piece. According to the article: “Surprising new research findings by Van Blerkom and others raise the paradoxical possibility that the viability of life may be determined long before fertilization.” The article goes on to mention that, though exact figures are debatable, a minimum of “two-thirds of all human eggs fertilized during normal conception either fail to implant at the end of the first week or later spontaneously abort.” This raises many questions… If life begins at conception (versus implantation) then why do our bodies kill two-thirds (and some sources say even closer to 80%) of pregnancies? If our bodies do this on their own, where does that leave birth control that prevents implantation, namely the IUD? Furthermore, if we can tell with 93% certainty which eggs are viable and which aren’t, well where does that leave the whole debate?! Is it controversial to mess with viable eggs but the ones that can’t lead to a full-term pregnancy are fair game? One thing is clear though: humans are surprisingly shit at making babies.

With all of this interesting information percolating in my mind, I started thinking about designer babies. I don’t have enough scientific knowledge  to know what is possible in the realm of creating babies with or without certain features. At present, I know that we can test for some traits in-utero, including certain genetic abnormalities and sex. Already, abortive decisions are made based on these findings. If you terminate your pregnancy because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome, is that less controversial than sex-selective abortion? What if you know that a girl will be a bigger financial strain and that she will have an inherently challenging life based on the culture/society/religion into which she will be born? Considering the well-being of the child or the quality of life you can give it seems like a practical or even “noble” reason to abort (assuming you are pro-choice). But what if you simply already have two girls and this time around you’d like a boy? Is that more or less valid? And what if you can select the sex of the baby prior to fertilization? What about eye colour? Height? What degree of genetic control might we have over other traits such as intelligence or sexuality? Is abortion based on genetic testing a slippery slope towards designer babies and eugenics? And if it is, is there even anything wrong with that? Maybe we could be creating future generations of superhumans who hyper-intelligent, can’t get cancer, and don’t ever age. It’s interesting to think of the potential ramifications of technologies like this — top of my list is the premise of an awesome science fiction story (patent pending).

But that’s another topic entirely. Coming back to IUDs and the law. Yes, IUDs can sometimes prevent fertilized eggs from implanting. But it seems out bodies naturally do that at an even higher rate. So can we really argue against insurance coverage for a form of birth control that does somethings are bodies often do already on their own? Phew. Makes me glad to be living in England where the NHS covers every kind of birth control.*

Utlimately, all of this leads me to think: we simply need more research. There’s so much we don’t yet know and so much outdated research (even the Discover article I’ve been citing is from way back in 2004). Unfortunately, much like with psychoactive drug research, there are some very real impediments to crucial research:

The politics of embryo research, however, is one reason we don’t know more about what distinguishes good eggs from bad. Federally funded research on human embryos, although sanctioned by a congressionally mandated national bioethics commission in 1975, has faced unrelenting opposition from right-to-life groups. In 1996 Congress banned NIH funding outright for any research in which an embryo is destroyed.

I simply can’t get on board with movements that inhibit important scientific advancements. Please refer to my “Religion” section for more debate.

 

*Except condoms, which are significantly more expensive here than back in North America. Wtf NHS?!

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