Long-acting reversible contraceptives a safe alternative

Women’s healthcare is under threat. These once-maligned birth control devices are viable, safe and affordable.

by Cassidy McCombs, Contributor

With administration threats to defund Planned Parenthood and drastically alter the Affordable Care Act, many women are revisiting their birth control options. Of the numerous methods available, Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs), such as IUDs and implants, are seeing an increasingly promoted as a safe, more effective form of preventing pregnancy. While there is some hesitation, LARCs are a safe alternative to more popular birth control methods.

LARCs are a viable alternative to those for whom short-term contraceptives are not affordable or as readily available. In September 2016, the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) released a statement that said LARCs had grown in popularity with women who are often “discriminated against, including young women, low-income women, uninsured women and women of color.”

With women’s reproductive rights routinely being questioned and debated, the security of long-term contraceptives offers more freedom to sexually active women. But LARCs, regardless of their financial advantages, are a great choice of contraceptive.

Donna Shoupe, a professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at USC, wrote in Contraception and Reproductive Medicine that there was a backlash to early LARCs when they were introduced in the United States in the late 1960s due to design flaws. Since those early years, methods and regulations have changed — but LARCs still have an undeserved reputation as a risky form of contraceptive.

In a Nation Health Statistics report released in November 2015, 11.6 percent of women using contraceptives between the ages of 15 and 44 reported the use of LARCs, while more than 50 percent said they used either the pill or sterilization.

In the September NWHN statement where they cautioned the aggressive promotion of LARCs by mainstream healthcare providers, the NWHN also expressed support for the 40-year progress in LARCs’ design, safety and efficacy. Their caution against LARCs comes from their concern of a lack of proper education to women of all their contraceptive options. They do not warn against LARCs as a birth control method, but want women educated about their rights to choose birth control based on their independent healthcare needs.

The negative reputation of LARCs do a disservice to their potential. Any form of long-term contraceptive, be it taking the pill for years at a time or having an IUD inserted, brings about specific reproductive health concerns in family planning. If concern over long-term side effects is turning women away from LARCs, it should be known that alternative forms of birth control carry similar risks.

A variety of reputable organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services specify LARCs as one of the most effective methods of birth control available. One dose of Nexplanon — a hormonal arm-insert — gives women three-years of protection from unwanted pregnancy, with similar side effect risks to taking short-term birth control over the same period of time.

Despite the debate as to what contraceptive women should opt for, reproductive anatomy varies by individual and personal sexual history, meaning health needs and family planning should be considered on a case-by-case basis. But in an age where accessible, everyday reproductive health care is under threat, LARCs are nothing to fear — or looked over.

Cassidy McCombs is a third-year journalism major with an emphasis in public relations. Find her on Twitter @Cassidy_McCombs.