The Facts on Norplant

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What is Norplant? Norplant is a provider-controlled, hormonal contraceptive for women that prevents pregnancy for five years after a single application. A physician inserts six Norplant capsules into a woman’s upper arm. These capsules release the hormone progestin slowly, over time, preventing pregnancy through a combination of inhibiting ovulation and thickening cervical mucus. Norplant must be removed by a trained physician.

Sacrificing Women’s Health to Pregnancy Prevention Promoting Norplant and Depo-Provera to women because the contraceptives prevent pregnancy in the long-term and do not require daily user-controlled dosage or partner cooperation, prioritizes these factors over women’s overall health, and minimizes the negative side effects associated with using these methods. By minimizing these potentially serious side effects, we are basically told that we, as women, are not entitled to sex and health, too. The message from providers and policy-makers is that if you have sex, you must pay the price in unwanted pregnancy or debilitating side effects.

Norplant users can experience: Severe headaches, depression, nervousness, change in appetite, extreme weight gain, hair loss, nausea, dizziness, acne, breast tenderness, swelling of the ovaries and ovarian cysts, difficulties with insertion and removal (including infection), and even nerve damage. There is a connection between Norplant use and stroke and heart attack. Norplant interrupts a women’s menstrual cycle. About 82% of Norplant users experience irregular, usually heavy, bleeding for the first year that can last for months on end. Others do not have their periods or experience irregular spotting.

Provider-controlled, not women controlled Providers often steer young black women towards Norplant and Depo-Provera without making available other methods like condoms, which are controlled by the user. Without education about all methods available, a woman cannot make an informed "choice" about which contraceptive form best fits with her lifestyle and state of health.

The new "choices" of Norplant and Depo-Provera are administered by doctors rather than by women themselves. In the case of Norplant, doctors must insert and remove the device, and many poor and low-income women have trouble finding the financial means and qualified doctors to remove the device. Women on Medicaid who want the device removed because of debilitating side effects may not receive coverage for removal. And, although many doctors know how to insert Norplant, far fewer know how to remove the device or are willing to do so for patients on Medicaid. In Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota, Medicaid policies support Norplant insertion but restrict removal.