Reminder: Birth Control Does More Than Just Prevent Pregnancy

Reminder: Birth Control Does More Than Just Prevent Pregnancy

While the Supreme Court's ruling that certain types of corporations cannot be required to provide contraception coverage for their employees has largely been framed through a religious liberty lens, it may have medical consequences for women who use birth control for reasons other than pregnancy prevention.

Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned craft supply chain store, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Store, a Mennonite-owned wood manufacturer, had challenged the mandate on the grounds that it violates their religious freedom by requiring them to cover methods of birth control they find morally objectionable, such as emergency contraception and hormonal and copper intrauterine devices.

The owners of those companies believe that those types of birth control are forms of abortion because they could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, despite the general scientific consensus that the contraceptives are not equivalent to abortion.

Though many Americans consider pregnancy prevention a compelling enough public health justification to cover the cost of such contraceptives, the ramifications of the Supreme Court's decision could also affect women who use birth control for other medical reasons.

In 2011, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that roughly 14 percent of birth control users rely on birth control exclusively for non-contraceptive purposes. Some 1.5 million women use birth control to help with medical issues such as ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, endometriosis and endometrial cancer.

Guttmacher also found that more than 58 percent of all birth control users cite other medical issues in addition to pregnancy prevention, listing reasons such as reducing cramps or menstrual pain, preventing migraines and other menstruation side effects, and treating acne.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, for instance, affects about 5 million American women. The disorder, which entails irregular menstrual cycles that can last for months, can cause iron deficiency, anemia and infertility, and some women have found relief from contraceptive methods.

The intrauterine device, which was one of the contraceptive methods at issue in the court case, is by no means a rare form of birth control and is commonly used for medical issues. In 2012, an estimated 8.5 percent of all contraceptive users said they used an IUD. The T-shaped copper or plastic devices are considered the third-most-effective contraceptive method, after vasectomies and implants.

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