The Hormonal Hatchet Job

COMMENTARY: When readers drill down into women’s complaints about the pill, they don’t seem so illegitimate, and they certainly don’t fit the definition of ‘misinformation.’

Birth control pills rest on a counter in Centreville, Maryland.
Birth control pills rest on a counter in Centreville, Maryland. (photo: Jim Watson / Getty)

The Washington Post and other left-leaning outlets are terrified that women are making choices — specifically, the choice to drop hormonal birth control in favor of more natural — and, increasingly, more scientific, options.

The “Democracy Dies in Darkness” publication fretted publicly, last month, that women were falling prey to “misinformation” propagated, they suggested, by a vast right-wing anti-birth-control conspiracy, using social-media platforms, to wean poor, unsuspecting women off the monthly pill. 

Media Matters for America, a somewhat more sinister publication connected to left-wing activist organizations, was similarly aghast at an “underlying conservative push” by “right-wing influencers” to, it seems, provide women with more natural choices in maintaining their fertility, citing The Washington Post’s “investigation” to conclude something must be done about this “influencer fearmongering.”

The Washington Post story on misinformation, ironically, is rife with its own misinformation. Citing few statistics and even fewer examples, the piece — which clocks in at well over 3,000 words — takes paragraphs to get to its central point: that some online personalities are now speaking out about their personal, negative experiences with chemical birth control. It never, however, provides proof that birth control isn’t causing a host of medical problems for young women. 

Those influencers, and their anecdata, the Post, which was certainly on board with an early iteration of the “Believe All Women” movement, claims, simply can’t be trusted because they lack a medical degree. To bolster their accusations, the Post cites few real-world examples of women being wrong — but they do include a photo of a male health-care bureaucrat, positioned at his desk in front of a “LGBTQ pride” flag and a sign that says, “Facts Are Important,” and an anecdote about social video app TikTok removing a few videos after the Post itself complained to the platform.

When readers drill down into the women’s complaints, though, they don’t seem so illegitimate, and they certainly don’t fit the definition of “misinformation.” In fact, they echo documented concerns about the pill raised by a number of authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration, which mandated, in 2012, that certain brands of birth control feature a “black-box warning” on their packaging, indicating serious concerns about the drug’s impact on the cardiovascular system.

The Washington Post even echoed those concerns, noting that government authorities remain concerned about the pharmaceutical industry’s “long-standing lack of transparency about some of the serious but rare side effects,” right before it accused a wellness influencer of leading women astray by suggesting the pill had led to dangerous health complications she wasn’t warned of.

The pill is known to have a number of side effects. The Mayo Clinic acknowledges that women may suffer everything from minor headaches, stomach pain, and breakthrough bleeding, to heart attacks and strokes, deep vein thrombosis, and liver disorders. It also lists several of the most common influencer complaints as potentially concerning developments in need of immediate medical attention: headaches, belly pain, dizziness, nausea and depression. 

Natural Womanhood, which provides resources to help women who choose not to use hormonal birth control manage their fertility, also notes that the pill creates a number of risk factors for cancer, as it alters cells in the cervix and breasts. The connection is so concerning that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a subgroup of the World Health Organization, labeled progestin-driven birth control as a “Class 1 Carcinogen” in 2007.

As for blood clots, a known risk of the pill, a systematic review of documentation conducted by Public Discourse, found that between 136 and 270 women die yearly from a VTE, or venous thromboembolism, connected to chemical birth control.

Those concerns, though, are swept aside in the Post’s article, with some patronizing language from — of course — a male physician, who dismisses a number of women’s lived experiences by suggesting that the pill’s primary feature, that it prevents pregnancy, outweighs its risks.

That, of course, has been the line for decades, particularly once physicians discovered that hormonal birth control could mask a variety of fertility-related illnesses, from endometriosis to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), by artificially regulating women’s cycles. 

But the effects of this “treatment” aren’t well known either, as women of childbearing age were largely prevented from participating in clinical drug trials until the mid-1990s. That same prohibition, of course, led to stagnating development in prescription treatments for the very conditions birth control was being prescribed to mask, leaving women with debilitating periods to turn to the only available option, the pill.

Yet the Post sees nothing sexist in a male doctor telling women to simply trust medical professionals.

Media Matters dug a bit deeper, claiming that “right-wing” social-media personalities were erroneously claiming that the pill alters women’s perception of potential sexual partners. Never mind that Media Matters cites the Whatever podcast, a dating, relationships and sexuality podcast that is in no way conservative — but that side effect is also documented, in a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 2014.  

That study found that women prioritized physical attraction in their sexual partners less while taking the pill, echoing earlier studies that concluded that the pill affects women’s taste in men  and that the pill can have a negative effect on a woman’s sexual satisfaction.

While these side effects of birth control can be classified as “under investigation,” what is not “under investigation” is whether having some of these side effects and speaking about them online, in an open public forum, is necessarily “misinformation.” It’s plainly not, even though The Washington Post believes it to be. 

In fact, the Post’s article was, itself, so misleading that the Post had to close comments when it posted its own story to social-media platforms; women responded in such overwhelming numbers, decrying their own symptoms associated with hormonal birth control, in response to the article that the Post simply couldn’t handle the wave of feedback.

Of course, the Catholic Church has known about these impacts for decades, even before studies on hormonal contraception’s side effects were published for the scientific community; its early thoughts on the subject warned of a breakdown in families and in society and that the “liberation” of women promised by the pill was not liberation at all, but slavery to a new “normal,” where the medical institutions treated fertility as a disease to be controlled, rather than a natural process to be understood, managed and supported.

These women aren’t committing the crime of “spreading misinformation” — they’re committing the crime of deferring from, and even questioning, the status quo. The pill may have allowed women to put off childbirth for an extended period of time, but institutional leftism, mainstream media, and perhaps even the mainstream medical industry, want to now prevent those same women from understanding the ultimate cost, not just to their families, but to their bodies.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 26 for a lawsuit brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which seeks to impose more restrictions on the prescription of mifepristone.

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