Fox News' Andrea Tantaros has been very vocal in blasting the Obama administration for its decision to require all health insurers, including church-affiliated organizations, to provide plans that cover contraception. In her haste to criticize the administration tonight, she distorted comments by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to make the point that the administration's mandate "has nothing to do with women's health," but is more about "population control."
In fact, the requirement has everything to do with women's health.
When political commentator Jehmu Greene pointed out that contraception is also used to treat other health issues, including ovarian cancer, Tantaros dismissed the argument:
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, "[e]mployer-based coverage is the primary form of health insurance for 64% of women of reproductive age, but a sizable minority of women lack coverage for contraceptives." Notably, poorer and college-aged women are the ones who struggle the most with the cost of prescription birth control.
And those struggles have real consequences for women's health. Contraceptives are indeed used to treat a wide array of medical conditions, including reducing the risk of ovarian cancer. USA Today recently reported that "[o]varian cancer is the deadliest of cancers that affect the female reproductive system, with about 22,000 women diagnosed each year and, in 2011, approximately 15,460 deaths." According Dr. Hyun J. Bang, a radiologist quoted by USA Today, "this cancer produces few, if any, symptoms in early stages. ... This is why 75 percent of all women present with advanced disease which has already begun to spread to other areas of the body."
Studies done on birth control pills have consistently shown that they can significantly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. From ABC News:
Early detection of ovarian cancer remains elusive but, in the meantime, women can significantly reduce their risk of this feared malignancy by using birth control pills and having babies.
Women who take the pill for 10 years nearly halve their risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to a large study that followed about 300,000 European women for an average of nine years.
The study, published this week in the British Journal of Cancer, confirmed findings of previous studies, including a large review in 2008, which reported that so-called "ever use" of the pill is protective. Authors of the latest study said ever-users of oral contraceptives had a 15 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer than never-users, but women who took the pill for a decade or more slashed their risk 45 percent.
Put another way, the researchers found about 15 ovarian cancer cases for every 100,000 women who took the pill for at least a decade, compared with about 28 ovarian cancer cases for every 100,000 women on the pill a year or less.
"Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect and so prevention is key to saving women suffering from this disease," said study co-author Naomi Allen, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist at the University of Oxford. "These results are important because most women don't know that taking the pill or getting pregnant can help reduce their risk of ovarian cancer later in life."
This year, nearly 22,000 U.S. women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 15,460 women will die from it, according to the National Cancer Institute. Among women whose ovarian cancer is detected before it spreads beyond the ovary, 93 percent are still alive after five years, the American Cancer Society says. But the disease is more often detected in advanced stages, when survival rates are far lower.
Discussing a comprehensive study published in The Lancet that found that the "longer women used the pill, the lower their ovarian cancer risk," the American Cancer Society wrote:
Ovarian cancer typically strikes late in life (half of all ovarian cancer cases are found in women over 63), and prognosis is often poor, largely because the disease is usually caught in its later stages. Ovarian cancer symptoms, which include abdominal swelling and digestive problems, are easily confused with other disorders, and there is currently no good screening test available to women.
According to the study, if the current level of oral contraceptive use remains steady, 30,000 cases of ovarian cancer worldwide could be prevented each year. Even better, the protection that comes with the pill seems to start within a year of taking it and increase over time.
Throughout the debate about the administration's contraception requirement, Fox News has focused its attention on trying to create the perception that this decision solidifies Obama as anti-Catholic. Tantaros herself has said that the mandate is further proof of the administration's continued push to "beat up on Catholics." But most Americans -- indeed, most Catholics -- support employer-provided coverage for contraception.
Doctors also agree. Six hundred physicians -- including 70 Catholics -- have signed a letter supporting the administration's requirement that employers provide contraception coverage in their health plans, calling it a health care requirement:
"As a doctor or medical student, I support the decision by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to ensure that women have access to cost-free contraception regardless of who their employers are (with exceptions for houses of worship). The religious beliefs of an employer should not be a barrier to women receiving the care they need."
Faced with that reality, Tantaros ignored the health issues and asked: "Really? Is it stimulative?" Tantaros was referring to a 2009 ABC News interview during which then-House Speaker Pelosi noted that "family planning services reduce costs," arguing for why millions of dollars had been added to the stimulus package to expand family planning services. Pelosi further stated:
The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those -- one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.
All of which perhaps explains why Fox News has continued to insist on discussing a phony "war on Catholics" and not the fight for women's health care.