Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Toward better contraceptives

MANY advances in reproductive medicine have occurred since 1973, when the U. S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, and as Blade staff writer Luke Shockman explained in two fascinating articles, some of those advances have become factors in the ongoing ethical and moral debate over abortion.

Sonograms, for instance, have made abortion safer by enabling physicians to guide their instruments during the procedure. Abortion opponents, however, now are backing legislation requiring that women view sonogram images of their fetus before deciding to have an abortion.

Unfortunately, those 32 years have brought little progress in developing more convenient, safer, and less expensive contraceptives. Those achievements in reproductive medicine could prevent many unwanted pregnancies in the first place. In doing so, they would silence much of the agonizing debate on whether abortion represents the taking of a human life.

Research on fundamentally new contraceptives, however, has not kept pace with the human need. One National Academy of Sciences study counted more than 100 new contraceptive technologies that were under development as the 21st century approached. Almost all, however, were "me-too" products - slightly different versions of contraceptives available for decades or centuries.

Abortion remains so common mainly because existing contraceptives fail to meet the needs of millions of women and men. More than 60 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned. In the United States, 1.2 million end in abortion every year, as do many of the 300 million unplanned pregnancies that occur globally.

Society needs a new generation of contraceptives - and not just for women.

A male birth control pill, for instance, would better enable men to share the responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies. Women need a better pill, one which is inexpensive and safe enough to be sold without a prescription. Women in developing countries share a special need for a contraceptive that can be used without the male's consent or knowledge, and which protects against sexually transmitted diseases.

Men and women who no longer want children both would benefit from long-lasting contraceptives, such as a much-discussed contraceptive "vaccine" that targets eggs or sperm like traditional vaccines target viruses.

Granted, there are other ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy, including programs to educate youth about the virtues of chastity. However, nothing offers the potential for a bigger impact than better contraceptives.

This research should get priority status from the government, pharmaceutical industry, and private foundations.

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