What’s Ahead for Women
Women report that they want contraceptives that are simpler to use and more suited to their lifestyles. This has given way to the longer-acting methods, such as the contraceptive patch and hormonal ring. In the future, these products may have even longer effectiveness periods. In addition, it is likely that contraceptive pills that eliminate monthly periods, such as Seasonale, will become more popular in the coming years. Other birth control pills that do not contain estrogen are also being investigated.
Many contraceptive developments are underway today. International pharmaceutical companies are working to find new and improved methods. There are now condoms that are ecologically sound and able to dissolve in water. Manufacturers are developing spermicides in a range of flavors to offset their current unpleasant taste. Disposable diaphragms coated with spermicide and contraceptive nasal sprays may soon be available.
The Oves contraceptive cap, a silicone barrier method that is inserted into the vagina and covers the cervix, is available in the United Kingdom. The cap can be worn for 3 days and is completely disposable after use. The Oves cap costs approximately $6, but is not available in the United States at this time.
Another immunocontraceptive is being studied that would inhibit the function of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG; see Chapter 12) and interrupt a woman’s ability to become pregnant (J. L. Schwartz & Gabelnick, 2002). However, this method is a challenge to researchers because it has also been found to interrupt other hormones.
Natural methods of contraception are also being studied. Saliva and urine tests can help natural planning by allowing a woman to determine whether she is ovulating. The Persona monitor is a handheld device that uses data from thousands of women along with chemical information obtained from the woman using the monitor. Test sticks are dipped in urine 8 days a month to determine safe days for intercourse. Currently this method is too expensive for routine use. Temporary sterilization techniques are also being evaluated. Although we still have a long way to go in making better methods available for controlling whether pregnancy occurs, many improvements are in the works and may be available in the near future.
Financial factors, political pressure, and legal concerns hold back most of the contraceptive research today. Private funding is often difficult because such large amounts are necessary for most research. Unfortunately, the threat of individual lawsuits (such as the Dalkon Shield situation discussed on page 432) has effectively scared most big pharmaceutical companies away from contraceptive research (J. L. Schwartz & Gabelnick, 2002).
In the United States, abortion has become the moral issue of the times. It is one of the most popular questions that Supreme Court nominees are asked during judicial hearings. In addition, abortion leads many people to question the role that the government should play in their lives. Although we’ll discuss the moral debate in more detail, the fact is, each year 46 million abortions are performed worldwide; 20 million of these procedures are considered unsafe (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999d).