And Ain't I a Woman: Unsuccessful suit makes women pay

Issue 

Unsuccessful suit makes women pay

In the longest medical legal case in Australia's history, a suit against Nutrasweet, makers of the Copper-7 IUD (intra-uterine device), was lost on February 22.

Nine women who used the Copper-7 IUD contraceptive launched the case after they experienced severe pain from infections and pelvic inflammatory disease that led to sterility or ectopic pregnancies in some cases. In an ectopic pregnancy the embryo lodges outside of the uterus, sometimes in the fallopian tubes or in the abdominal cavity, often attached to an organ like the bowel. This usually results in extreme pain, the loss of the embryo and often infertility.

Some in the medical establishment, the women said, did not take their claims of agonising pain seriously.

The women will appeal the decision.

Like the women who spent years embroiled in legal battles with Dow Corning over breast implants which caused pain and disease, the Copper-7 women faced a legal system not known for its progressive attitudes on racism or sexism.

Nutrasweet is also the maker of artificial sugar, part of the huge diet industry, which generates billions of dollars each year from promoting in women feelings of inadequacy about their bodies and their appearance. It is not surprising that this company is refusing to take responsibility for the effects of a product that it has produced and marketed to millions of women around the world (including an estimated 500,000 in Australia).

There is no contraceptive to date that is truly safe and effective. Many believe that if men had to go ahead with an unwanted pregnancy after failed attempts at contraception, more resources would be devoted to the quest to develop a better contraceptive. As feminists have often said: "They can send a man to the moon, but they still haven't developed a safe, effective contraception."

One demand of the women's liberation and abortion rights movements over the years has been for adequate resources to be devoted to researching and developing a fail-safe contraceptive for women.

For years, women's health and reproductive services have been underfunded and under-resourced. The pressure of the women's liberation movement in the 1970s forced more spending for better women's health programs. However, full reproductive freedom for women remains a dream: abortion is still on the criminal codes of all but one Australian state, women in many parts of the Third World are forcibly sterilised, and the church has powerful control over women's lives in much of the world. The minority religious right in Australia has also blocked women's access to a morning-after pill, RU486, which approved for use in a number of countries.

When mistakes are made by pharmaceutical companies, women should not have to pay for it for the rest of their lives. Companies that profit from contraceptive products must be held accountable for what they produce. As well, better funding for research in reproductive technologies by the public sector could produce results which finally give real choice to women and free them from being held ransom to the quest for profit.

By Margaret Allum