Reproductive Justice

“Safe” and “Effective”?: IUDs and the Corporate Power Problem

IUD manufacturers know about the life-altering health risks of IUDs, but often hide this information–instead marketing them as “safe” and “effective”

Sarah Zahedi

October 18, 2022

After Gina Burg gave birth to her daughter, she decided she was ready to try out a new birth control product. She sought an alternative to the birth control she had already tried. Her gynecologist recommended that she use an intrauterine device (IUD), a small plastic T-shaped device inserted into the uterus that is used to prevent pregnancy. Like many others who begin using IUDs, Burg was unsatisfied with the other birth control options she had tried. Hormonal birth control had not worked for her in the past: she had tried options like the pill, NuvaRing, and Norplant to no avail.

“I needed something different and my doctor suggested the Paragard IUD because it didn’t have any hormones,” Burg said. 

The Paragard IUD has become one of the most common contraceptive options in the U.S. since its introduction to the market in 1988. For five years, Burg’s IUD worked for her as expected and without complications. Then, unexpectedly, she became pregnant. 

“I thought I had finally found something that would work for me but then, surprise, surprise,” Burg said. Still, she noted, “at the time, we were excited about it.”

But then, one week, Burg started to feel horrible pain and discomfort. At first, she thought it was just because this pregnancy was different from her last. When the discomfort did not subside, she called her doctor to make an appointment. 

The day before her scheduled appointment, Burg woke up in bed with extreme pain. She went to the emergency room and was taken in for immediate surgery. She had an ectopic pregnancy, which happens when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus and cannot survive. In Burg’s case, her ectopic pregnancy happened in her fallopian tube, which carries eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. Unbeknownst to her, she had been suffering from internal bleeding for a week because of the ectopic pregnancy.

“I was told [by my doctor] that if I had waited much longer, I could have died from sepsis,” Burg said. 

Burg said her doctor told her that he had to remove one of her fallopian tubes, but that she still had her other one, “so [she] should be okay.” Her doctor had no idea where her IUD was, however. “He said that everything was a mess inside of [me]…that [the IUD] might be in the tissue [he] removed from my body,” Burg said. “[He said], ‘the good thing is the human body is really miraculous–if it is still inside you, a cyst will form around it, and it will just bounce inside [your] body.’”  

“I was told [by my doctor] that if I had waited much longer, I could have died from sepsis.”

Shocked by her doctor’s bedside manner, Burg was left with unanswered questions. Her doctor retired before Burg and her then-partner decided they wanted another baby. It was not until Burg went to a new doctor that she found out that her chances of pregnancy were “one in a million” due to her ectopic pregnancy. Only about 1 in 3 women who have had an ectopic pregnancy go on to have a healthy pregnancy. Losing a fallopian tube reduces one’s chance of pregnancy even further. 

“I did not quite understand what had gone on with my body,” Burg said. “I lost a baby. I lost a fallopian tube. My life completely changed after that.”

Burg had not known that her IUD could cause her to have an ectopic pregnancy and become infertile. Yet, the risks of ectopic pregnancy and infertility are known potential side effects of the IUD to device manufacturers and to doctors. While research has shown that incidence of ectopic pregnancy among those who use Paragard is 0.06%, the presence of the IUD markedly increases the risk that unintended pregnancy will occur outside of the uterus. One study showed that pregnancies during IUD use were highly likely to be ectopic and accounted for about 10 percent of the total ectopic pregnancies in a studied population.  

“I lost a baby. I lost a fallopian tube. My life completely changed after that.”

Paragard is marketed as “safe” and “effective”. The Paragard website advertises that the IUD has been seen in beauty and fashion news outlets like Allure, Glamour, Shape, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and more. Beneath this advertisement, the side effects of the IUD are listed in a noticeably smaller font at the bottom of the website. The website notes that “pregnancy with Paragard is rare but can be life threatening and cause infertility or loss of pregnancy” and that the IUD may “attach or go through the uterus” and “cause other problems”. Heavier periods, anemia, pain during sex, and backaches are also listed as common side effects. These disclosures do little to notify Paragard users of the actuality of what could go wrong if they choose to use the Paragard IUD. Rather, they unfairly diminish the reality that Burg and many other IUD users have experienced.