Norplant and African AmericansThe recent public discussion...


February 13, 1993

Norplant and African Americans

The recent public discussion of the contraceptive Norplant is very distressing.

As a female obstetrician/gynecologist who has Norplant and directs a family planning clinic, I am distressed at the chorus of men attempting to deny women the power to make an informed decision as to whether to use a contraceptive.

Throughout history -- whether it be wife-burning, stoning women for adultery, female genital mutilation or fundamentalist

patriarchy, men, often under the self-assumed mantle of religion, seek to control women's lives.

As an African-American, I am troubled that certain African-American men are attempting to deny women an option so far available only to informed, mostly white, middle class women.

They convey the impression that Norplant is a punishment instead of a potential blessing.

Further, when discussing the availability of Norplant to women on welfare, they convey the impression that most women on welfare are African-American. The fact is that only a third of women on welfare in this country are African-American.

Finally, as a physician, I am disturbed by the public discussion by persons who are uninformed. The Sun continues to sensationalize the issue, quoting and headlining critics while burying the comments of more reasonable and informed observers such as Del. Pete Rawlings and Rev. William Calhoun.

"Don't we already offer other contraceptives?" Reverend Calhoun asked. "So what's the difference?"

Norplant is one of many contraceptive options.

The decision to use Norplant is a personal decision governed by the individual woman's lifestyle, goals and health status.

From reading The Sun one would think women are obligated to keep Norplant in place for five years. In fact, as should be stated in every article, Norplant can be removed at any time with fertility being restored more quickly than with other hormonal methods.

The press should further make clear Norplant has been safely used by over 500,000 women in the United States and nearly 2 million women worldwide. It releases a lower dosage of hormones than in birth control pills.

One might ask why this clamor over providing the option of Norplant when birth control pills have been in use for 30 years. Norplant has been used worldwide for over 10 years. No other contraceptive has been as widely tested prior to distribution as Norplant.

The Francis Scott Key Medical Center's Family Planning Clinic has provided the Norplant contraceptive to over 1,000 women.

These women all made an informed, voluntary decision to choose their method. Less than 8 percent of these women have asked that their implants be removed. Women who request removal have their removals performed in a timely fashion.

My simple request is that politicians, men and clergy members leave this personal decision to informed women.

Vanessa E. Cullins, M.D.


The writer is director of the Francis Scott Key Family Planning Clinic.

____________ This is a response to an editorial Jan. 30: "Norplant: Paternalism Choice?"

The editorial began with the statement "Norplant, the five-year contraceptive implant, has been used by almost 2 million women around the world -- by choice."

You then went on to discuss the governor's State of the State address last month where he raised possible solutions to the problem of children born out of wedlock to parents who are on welfare or who are children themselves.

You went on to criticize a group of East Baltimore ministers, accusing us of paternalism, saying that there are many poor women in Maryland who want Norplant but cannot afford it and that we should be concerned about our congregations.

You implied that as ministers, we are against the right of poor women to choose a safe, proven contraceptive, however benevolent our intent.

As a group, Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore (CURE), we are opposed to Norplant.

The Baltimore City Health Department has targeted our public ++ middle and high school children, ages 12 to 17. This is a test, because Norplant has never been used on a large scale on women under the age of 20. Depending upon the success or failure in Baltimore, this may be duplicated in other cities across the nation.

There are several possible side effects, including excessive bleeding, raised blood pressure and cholesterol levels which may later cause other serious health problems. The long-term effects are still unknown in women under 20.

The Health Department will even administer this drug to these children without parental consent. There is something inherently wrong when a parent must consent for a child to go on a trip to the zoo but need not consent for that same child to receive a contraceptive.

We do not want to send our children the wrong message. However old fashioned, we believe that sex outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is morally wrong.

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