Birth control breakthroughs on the horizon

Via Kristof of the New York Times and The Daily Report from the National Partnership for Women and Families, this decade promises to be filled with encouraging contraceptive breakthroughs for both men and women.

A quick round-up of what we may be in store for includes:

  • A vaginal ring that lasts for one year and costs under $10
  • A hormonal implant for women that can last as long as an IUD and costs $3
  • Reversible sterilization for men that can be undone by injection
  • Underclothing for men that acts as a long acting contraceptive agent

While these breakthroughs are important because they get us closer to the day when the burden for contraception doesn’t fall on women alone, I can’t help but feel conflicted about birth control as a woman of color. This is because some of the birth control breakthroughs many women enjoy today have been at the expense of low-income women of color. Bianca I. Laureano over at RH Reality Check articulated this powerfully while many celebrated the 50th anniversary of the pill:

I’ve mentioned before that hippie immigrant Puerto Rican parents raised me in the US. One of the messages that was transmitted to me as a young Puerto Rican woman growing up was that the birth control pill kills Puerto Rican women. And it did.

Excuse me if I do not partake in all of the celebration of The 50th Anniversary of The Pill because from my perspective it is still very much a reminder of the exploitation and violation of human rights among Puerto Ricans (and Haitians, and working class women in general) that continues today. Ignoring this reality is easy. Yet, it is a part of my, our history that I can’t simply forget or overlook.

The thorny ethics issues that surround the nature of the clinical trials attached to these pending birth control options would have probably soured  an article hailing reproductive health innovation as one method of fighting global poverty. But the linkage between poverty reduction and birth control was also used to justify holding the clinical trials for the oral contraceptive in Puerto Rico. While informed consent is now the law of the land, how clinical doctors interpret these subjective principles and the complex legal precedents involved is something that should remain in the conversation as we evaluate reproductive health breakthroughs.

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