Pharmaceutical giant Bayer recently announced the launch of We’re For Her, a program intended to increase contraceptive access — in particular, IUDs — for US women. In partnership with humanitarian organization Direct Relief, We’re For Her is intended to get contraception to women through product donations and grants provided by Direct Relief to clinics around the country. Two of its first four grants went to Planned Parenthood affiliates.
The We’re for Her program is part of Bayer’s overall goal to provide 100 million women around the world with contraception by 2030 — and Bayer proudly states that since 2001, it has donated over 277,000 IUDs to women globally.
On its face, such a massive donation might sound altruistic. The deeper reality is far murkier. In the 50-minute documentary “Strings Attached,” Culture of Life Africa founder Obianuju Ekeocha highlighted the harm that contraceptives have caused to countless African women. Though IUDs are just one type of contraceptive among many pushed on developing nations by Western NGOs, they are featured prominently in a horrific example from the documentary.
As Live Action News summarized of the film, “Anna-Theresa Amo was one of 12 women from her village who visited a [Marie Stopes International] facility and was pressured to have IUDs implanted. Through a translator, Anna-Theresa said that when the women objected, requesting some other form of contraception, staff told them, ‘even if you refuse, this is the best’ and then locked the women inside the room and inserted the IUDs. The women experienced terrible abdominal pain and infections — side effects they were never warned about.”
While it is unclear who manufactured the IUDs inserted in the women discussed in the film, the birth control devices caused very real harm. The side effects should have come as no surprise in a population of women unlikely to have regular access to follow-up care. This point was underscored by testimony from a small-town doctor in Uganda, who described caring for a woman whose IUD had wreaked havoc internally after being in place for 12 years.
Sadly, for women in developing countries, access to contraceptive care won’t help build healthier families as the announcement for the We’re for Her program states. One law firm’s discussion of problems with the new IUD Paragard summed it up: “IUDs have a long and checked history of defects, failure, and liability in this country. This troubled past has drastically limited the popularity and usage of IUD devices in the U.S. compared to other parts of the world.” Yet, for decades, African nations, in particular, have borne the brunt of contraceptive dumps — “donations” of contraceptives that have fallen out of favor in the U.S. and other developed nations.
The original IUD, the Dalkon Shield, was provided to women in 42 countries, including many African countries, after it had been taken off the market in the U.S. for serious and even life-threatening side effects. In addition, the IUDs were often sent with several applicators per box of 1,000 devices, and the instructions for use weren’t in a language that the providers inserting them could understand.
In light of the known problems with IUDs in particular, especially for women in developing nations, Bayer’s celebration of the international distribution of hundreds of thousands of them is tone-deaf at best.
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