Everyone Needs Science, Even Republicans

The ECHO study results were announced on June 13, 2019. Image taken from echo-consortium.com

A newly published study in The Lancet finds that the Depo-Provera contraceptive injection does not increase HIV transmission.

By Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations

The results of the ECHO trial (Evidence for Contraception Options and HIV Outcomes) were released last week, and family planning advocates around the world breathed a sigh of relief.

Back in 2011, a study from the University of Washington set off alarm bells when it found that women who used hormonal contraception—specifically birth control pills or the Depo-Provera injectable contraceptive—were at an increased risk of contracting and/or spreading HIV. The difference wasn’t small: The study indicated the risk might be twice as high as for users of non-hormonal methods.

The pill remains one of the most popular forms of reversible birth control in the world, while Depo is one of the only reliable methods available to people who don’t want a partner to know they’re using contraception. And we know that access to birth control leads to material gains in health and wellbeing.

Meaning—if the first study’s finding was accurate, it would seriously complicate the picture for millions of people.

Thankfully, it turns out it wasn’t. The ECHO trial, involving more than 7,800 women across four countries—Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)—tested three contraceptive methods (a hormonal implant, an injectable contraceptive, and the copper IUD) and found that there was no difference in HIV infection rates* among users.

Science Matters

The ECHO trial highlights the importance of serious, careful science in questions of public health. It also throws into sharp relief the haphazard way the United States approaches such questions, especially when it comes to reproductive health.

In this country, too many politicians believe they don’t need science, or scientists, to help them make laws that impact the reproductive health care of millions of people. Republicans, in particular, are sure they know everything they need to know already.

  • They “know” the Global Gag Rule reduces abortion. (It doesn’t.)
  • They “know” teaching teens about contraception will cause them to have sex. (It won’t.)
  • They “know” fetuses feel pain. (They don’t.)
  • They “know” banning abortion will stop abortion. (It never has before.)
  • They “know” pregnancy is safe, and abortion is never necessary to save a pregnant person’s life. (It is.)
  • Some of them even “know” birth control and abortion are the same thing. (You get the idea.)

They don’t need studies. They’re certain. They know. Even when it turns out they’re 100% wrong.

* The study did have one major finding, however: Despite counseling and the use of PREP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) medications, rates of HIV acquisition were unacceptably high among the study population, highlighting the continuing need for efforts to fight the epidemic.

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