In October 1980, it was widely reported in the media that a ten-year, Federally funded study conducted at the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek, California, had shown risks of oral contraceptives to be “negligible.”
However, several important aspects of the study were not widely reported by the media:
1. Several doctors and medical researchers have found serious flaws in the research methodology of the study, rendering any conclusions invalid.
2. There are extensive financial links between Dr. Savitri Ramcharan, head of the Kaiser-Permanente study, and major makers and distributors of oral contraceptives.
4. “News” stories in the media, with headlines such as United Press International’s “Birth Control Pills Are Called Safe,” actually were drawn from a press release by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, working for the G.D. Searle and Company, the developers of the first commercial Pill.
4. Although the results of the Ramcharan study named specific groups of women for whom birth control pills caused “negligible” health risk, there was a tendency in the media to leave out the specifics, making it appear that the pills were safe for everyone.
Result: Sales of oral contraceptive pills have been on the increase for the first time since 1969 when the health dangers of the Pill were first exposed to the public.
Because the media allowed itself to be used to present a false picture of oral contraceptive “safety” to the American public, more women are now exposing themselves to the health hazards of the Pill.
The media’s failure to explore this critical issue beyond the press release qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1980.
SOURCES: Oakland Tribune, Dec. 6, 1980, “Activist Calls Pill Safety Study ‘Flawed'”, by Carol Benfell; The Nation, Feb. 14, 1981, “Who Says Oral Contraceptives Are Safe?” by Becky O’Malley.