Hobby Lobby sued the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the contraception mandate, because of their belief that some forms of contraception are actually abortifacients (i.e., they cause abortions). As usual, the religious right claimed their beliefs ought to trump scientific fact, and that religious freedom means shoving their religious beliefs onto others, and the Supreme Court agreed. But hormonal contraception has other uses too; their use isn’t limited to preventing pregnancy.
Hormonal contraception (birth control pills) is also used to treat women’s health issues.
According to an article on The Huffington Post, Gallup estimated in 2011 that 14% of women use contraceptives only to treat medical problems, and not for preventing pregnancy. An astonishing 58% of women who use hormonal contraception do so both to prevent pregnancy, and to treat a medical condition.
The Center for Young Women’s Health says that birth control pills can treat the following conditions:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome;
- endometriosis (debilitating menstrual pain)
- endometriosisamenorrhea (lack of periods due to extreme stress, weight loss, or even damage from radiation and chemotherapy);
- abnormally heavy periods (which can cause anemia);
- irregular periods; and
- pre-menstrual syndrome.
Some of these conditions, like endometriosis, are debilitating. Endometriosis, for instance, can cause such pain that that the sufferer can’t even get out of bed. That affects a woman’s ability to work, and to take care of her family. She might spend two or more weeks each month bedridden from the pain. Imagine what that does to her family if she’s a single mother. Birth control pills put a stop to the growth of uterine lining tissue in other parts of the pelvic region, which is the main cause of endometriosis.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome causes irregular periods, which are sometimes heavy, along with acne, weight gain (and inability to lose excess weight) and even excessive hair growth. Hormonal contraception brings hormone levels down to normal, which reduces, and in some cases, eliminates, all of these symptoms.
Women who suffer from unusually heavy periods can also suffer from anemia, which is potentially serious. Birth control pills thin uterine lining, which makes periods lighter, and reduces the risk of anemia.
Intra-uterine devices can treat women’s health issues as well.
As for intra-uterine devices, there’s a 2008 article from Medical News Today that discusses the possibility that some of these devices (7) reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Hormonal IUDs also help (8) treat heavy bleeding, like the pill,and are often prescribed elsewhere in the world for (9) women on hormone replacement therapy during the early stages of menopause. Some types of hormone replacement therapy have been linked to endometrial cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. Hormonal IUDs can help to protect the uterine wall during hormone replacement therapy, reducing the risk of endometrial cancer.
That article also says that IUDs may also be an effective treatment for (10) endometriosis, and are good for protecting women with a history of (11) ectopic pregnancies (which can be life-threatening). It may also help to treat (12) endometrial hyperplasia, a condition in which endometrial tissue becomes abnormally overgrown.
Why does the Supreme Court ruling only apply to women’s health?
Think Progress brings up important questions, too. Author Tara Culp-Ressler says that The Supreme Court tried to clarify that their ruling only applies to the contraception mandate, and is not to be used for religious objections to things like vaccines, transfusions, or services for transgendered individuals. Her questions are, why do women “need a workaround to access their reproductive health care?” Why is it that employers are given a religious exemption for something that applies only to women, but not other potentially objectionable medical services?
These questions are especially important in light of the fact that contraception treats actual, real medical conditions, and is not used solely for pregnancy prevention. The Supreme Court just singled women out, on the grounds of religious beliefs that historically discriminate against women. This is just another manifestation of that.