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By pam chamberlain & chip berlet By pam chamberlain & chip berlet
George h. Beres
Eleanor J. Bader
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I f you watch television, chances are you’ve seen ads for Seasonale, a new oral contraceptive that allows women to have four menstrual periods a year. The tag line is enticing: “Fewer periods. More possibilities.”
Since Seasonale was approved by the FDA in September 2003, U.S. doctors have penned more than 260,000 prescriptions for it. A small percentage were placed on the drug for medical reasons; that is, Seasonale allows women with anemia or endometriosis to bleed less frequently, thereby reducing the sometimes-incapacitating pain associated with menstruation. This group aside, the bulk of Seasonale users take the pill to avoid the mess, discomfort, and inconvenience of their monthly visitor.
But how does it work and is it safe? The pill—which is chemically identical to the traditional oral contraceptive mix of ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel—is taken for 84 days. A placebo is then taken for seven days to cut the number of annual periods from 13 to 4. As for pregnancy prevention, Seasonale stops ovulation and simultaneously causes cervical mucus to thicken. This makes it difficult for sperm to travel toward the uterus, thus reducing the chance that a fertilized egg will attach to the uterine wall. When used correctly—when it is taken without fail at roughly the same time each day—it is 99 percent effective.
Barr Pharmaceuticals, the largest supplier in the $3.4 billion oral contraceptive market and the maker of Seasonale, is singing the pill’s praises. “We believe in it,” says Carol A. Cox, Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications for the Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey company. “Oral contraceptives, more than any other drugs, have been watched for 40 years. The long-term effects of hormone therapy have been well-studied and have been proven safe. Seasonale opens up possibilities for women. It’s another contraceptive for them to consider.”
Despite Cox’s enthusiasm, the company’s own findings raise a slew of concerns about the efficacy of the product. A trial, begun in 1999 and lasting for one year, started with 397 English-speaking, heterosexual women between the ages of 18 and 40. Forty-seven test sites were established so that women from every region of the U.S. could participate. Although the protocol reads like a typical drug study, a report written for Barr by scientists F.D. Anderson and Howard Hait indicates that more than half of those enrolled in the trial—90 percent of whom had taken oral contraceptives before— dropped out before the 12-month study was completed. In fact, only 161 women finished the program. Reasons for withdrawal included excessive bleeding, weight gain, mood swings, and acne.
These problems, says Cox, are similar to those experienced by women taking all oral contraceptives, and usually abate once the body adjusts to the hormone regimen. The FDA’s division of drug marketing saw it differently, however, and sent Barr a letter in late December 2004 chastising them for “false and misleading ads” that failed to mention “frequent and sometimes substantial bleeding.” As a result TV and print ads now warn potential Seasonale users that unplanned bleeding is likely during the first six months of use.
Critics have not been fully appeased by this remonstration. On the medical end, some doctors worry that Seasonale will cause women to have more heart attacks and strokes because they will not rid themselves of excess iron each month. Other flags have also been raised. The late Dr. John R. Lee, an expert in progesterone and hormone replacement therapy, wrote in October 2003, “Shedding the endometrium each month is one of Mother Nature’s strategies for protecting a woman from too much growth in the uterus which can result in cancer or fibroids…. It’s a good bet that taking synthetic hormones will increase bone loss and increase the risk of endometrial cancer, infertility, blood sugar problems and chronic hormone imbalances later in life that we can only speculate on now.”
The National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) is concentrating on the way Seasonale is being promoted. “It’s being presented in a way that stigmatizes menstruation,” says Amy Allina, NWHN’s program director. “Women are being told that having their period is a drag and that this pill will help them avoid it. This is untrue for many women. Barr has also brought doctors to press events who either misrepresent the research on women’s feelings about menstruation or invent stuff outright. At one event a doctor said that girls do not do as well on their SATs when they are menstruating. When reporters asked for research to back this up, they got nothing.”
Allina is also angry about statements that imply that because women 100 years ago had approximately 150 periods during their lifetimes—they were pregnant, nursing, or too stressed to menstruate for the bulk of their lives—today’s woman is abnormal because she has three times that number. “This is an effort to medicalize a phase of life,” Allina adds. Yet she and the NWHN stop short of denouncing the drug. “Barr is trying to put Seasonale in the best possible light so they are downplaying problems. Instead of saying that menstruation is normal but some women don’t like it and this will help those women avoid it, they go six steps further and make it seem as if menstruation is unhealthy or unnatural. The facts should not be hidden. If they say that when you take Seasonale there’s a tough transition period, but most women get through it, and that if having four periods a year is important enough to you that you’ll go through six months of breakthrough bleeding, then they’re presenting the facts.” In the end, Allina says, it’s a matter of making an informed choice.
Opponents of hormonal contraceptives argue that the playing field on which women exercise this choice is far from even. Indeed, Barr has a 250- person women’s health sales force in place to promote Seasonale and other contraceptive products. The generous distribution of samples that doctors can offer to patients, alongside a $50 million marketing campaign that boasts “Sex and the City” creator Candace Bushnell as spokesperson, gives this “lifestyle pill” the cachet of the hip and savvy. Time Magazine dubbed it “one of the coolest inventions of 2003.”
Barr is presently working on several new 28-day and extended- use oral contraceptives. They are also pushing to make Plan B, the prescription emergency contraceptive pill, available as an over-the- counter option in U.S. pharmacies. Their efforts are paying off. While pharmaceutical competitors Merck and Pfizer have been thwarted by lawsuits over Celebrex and Vioxx, Barr posted a net profit of $59.4 million for the second quarter of fiscal 2005.
Eleanor Bader is a freelance writer and author of Targets of Hatred.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.