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Copyright 2000 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

August 19, 2000, Saturday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 371 words

HEADLINE: Covering Contraceptives (Cont'd)


Cory L. Richards, vice president for Public Policy at the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), writes: "The most widely used contraceptive methods reduce a woman's risk of pregnancy by more than 90 percent" [Free for All, Aug. 5].

Actually, Table 4 of the AGI report on contraceptive failure rates as found on the Web indicates that the contraceptive failure rate is 18.9 percent for black women, 14.9 percent for Hispanic women and 10.1 percent for white women.

Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, writes that providing insurance for contraceptives would save insurers by "preventing unintended pregnancies" and related medical costs. Apparently, she is unaware of the data on contraceptive failure rates. A more effective way to prevent pregnancy is natural family planning (NFP). This method tracks a woman's symptoms and temperature to determine when she is fertile. When she abstains from intercourse during her fertile periods, she will not become pregnant. NFP requires a woman to refrain from intercourse several days of each menstrual cycle. The World Health Organization did a five-country study (Philippines, India, Ireland, New Zealand and El Salvador) and concluded that NFP is 98.6 percent to 99 percent effective in postponing pregnancy when used correctly.

Another way of looking at the contraception advocated by Richards and Michelman is that out of every 10,000 black women who use contraceptives 1,890 will become pregnant in a year, while if 10,000 black women use NFP, between 100 and 140 will become pregnant. After a minimal investment for a thermometer, NFP has no recurring costs, and that is why it does not receive a good deal of publicity. No one makes money on it--not obstetricians, not drug companies, not contraceptive manufacturers. Given the minuscule cost and the low failure rate of NFP, the only reason to argue for insurance coverage of contraceptives is to enable unlimited sexual pleasure.

If insurance companies are going to cover "pleasure" as such, I advocate that they also cover my dinner wine, which is pleasurable and has the added benefit of helping to maintain a healthy heart.

--Francois L. Quinson

LOAD-DATE: August 19, 2000

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