A reader writes:
I wanted to add another piece to the discussion about contraceptives. As a woman who has suffered from a painful pelvic condition, endometriosis, I want to point out that contraceptives are used for more than pregnancy prevention. For many women, contraceptives are the first type of treatment that doctors will prescribe to women who have very painful pelvic conditions such as cysts, PCOS and endometriosis. For many women, taking birth control can help to minimize the pain and keep the condition from worsening. Restricting access to birth control also indirectly subjects women to painful medical conditions and increases the possibility of having to intervene surgically. These diseases are already very misunderstood, underdiagnosed and politicized without adding this extra layer of complication.
As many as 1/3 of all women are affected by endometriosis, and yet the AVERAGE length of diagnosis is 10 years, which means that women who suffer from this are often experiencing symptoms such as pain and or infertility for many years before a doctor will intervene. Most women take massive amounts of NSAIDS (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, etc.) to manage the pain during their period.
I suffered with severe pain from age 14-23. At 14, I was put on prescription strength Aleve to lessen the pain. At 19, I put myself on birth control, since I had heard it lessened the pain of these symptoms, and I stayed on it for five years. I was able to access it easily through the student health center at my university. Starting at 23, I started seeking medical advice because the pain became debilitating. It took almost four years from this point, three gynecologists, a gynecological RN, and a GI specialist before I walked into the fourth gynecologist asking for a diagnostic surgery for endometriosis, which properly diagnosed me. I was 27 by then.
Each of those doctors had a different opinion of what was wrong with me. It's taken me years to let go of the anger and injustice of this, and I've often felt that if men had to suffer this way, there would have been many more advances made much earlier on in properly treating and diagnosing these problems. Also, poor women with little or no health insurance already suffer disproportionally from these conditions, as the treatments are expensive. Women's health is difficult enough as it is without the extra layers of complication that would be created by restricting access to birth control through insurance plans or other means.
I fear that this discussion about birth control coverage will now only lengthen the diagnostic time and make it more difficult for doctors to deploy this first line of defense making surgery more likely.