It is no secret that Catholic teaching does not support the use of contraception for birth control purposes. While a number of Catholics take birth control anyway, many are unaware that intentionally taking such drugs for the purpose of detaching sex from natural fertility is a grave and serious choice that constitutes mortal sin, which separates our souls from God. All mortal sins bring many layers of damage and hurt for those who knowingly partake in them. When it comes to birth control, the harms are both physical and spiritual, providing ample reasons for us women to make choices regarding our fertility that will care for our well-being in this life, as well as our prospects in the next. next. Here are three things you might not have known about birth control.
1. Pill pushers don’t care about your individual health needs.
While hormonal contraception has for a long time been lauded as an issue of women’s health, it’s really an issue of big pharmaceutical companies. Decades after the Pill came on the market, doctors prescribe it for conditions ranging from acne to period pain. If a young woman has what looks like an “irregular” period (which is normal, especially in the teen years while hormones are fluctuating), doctors will act like it is a problem the Pill can fix.
There are a lot of problems with this. First, hormonal birth control drugs like the Pill do not fix the problems for which they’re prescribed; they just cover them up. That means you’re paying for a solution that will not fix the problem and may even result in the underlying issue being worse when you get off the drug later in life. For difficult health conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, being on the Pill can delay the health changes that would get you on a course to avoid greater pain or even infertility later in life.
In reality, too many doctors are not really prescribing the Pill, IUD and other such contraceptives in abundance because of small things like acne. The prevailing mindset, both in and out of medicine today, believes any young woman of childbearing age should be on these drugs in an attempt to decrease teen pregnancies. Many doctors have this larger social goal in mind, and it often takes precedence over your individual health needs. There can also be a financial incentive, as reports show how pharmaceutical companies provide kickbacks the more their drugs are prescribed.
Consider what happened recently with the permanent birth control device Essure. The device, which the company Bayer announced will be off the market at the end of 2018, was prescribed for 16 years to more than 750,000 women. Along the way, Bayer paid doctors who prescribed Essure tens of thousands of dollars. According to a CNN report, “from August 2013 through December 2017, Bayer paid 11,850 doctors $2.5 million related to Essure for consulting fees and similar services.”
2. The health risks are a bigger deal than prescribers let on.
To make matters worse, birth control drugs and devices come with grave side effects that hardly get air time in the doctor’s office. Many doctors are taught that the side effects are negligible for the larger goal of avoiding pregnancy, so they won’t explain them to patients. In the case of Essure, the FDA, midyear in 2018, published new guidelines mandating doctors to review a 20-plus page document and have patients sign it before being authorized to prescribe it. Bayer pulled Essure off the market not long after that, suggesting part of what makes these drugs so popular is the decreased attention to health risks.
But the health risks are all too real for many women who take contraceptive drugs. As Lila Rose, president of Live Action, explains, “Places like Planned Parenthood receive government funding to distribute the Pill, handing it out like candy to girls as young as 13, who have no idea of the long-term effects on their bodies…. The ubiquitousness of the pill also gives people the impression that it poses little harm.”
Dr. John Littell, a Catholic physician in Florida, and author of “The Hidden Truth: Deception in Women’s Health Care,” described some of the health problems he has seen as a result of contraception: “Essure was a huge problem because of the surgery needed to correct the underlying pelvic pain syndromes. There’s the increase risk of cervical cancer for women taking oral contraceptives (OC)…. Migraine headaches are also still an issue for many on OCs. Heart disease and stroke are less common, but devastating when they occur.” Littell also said other side effects include “emotional imbalances, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain.”
Littell also noted the link between hormonal birth control and breast cancer; in a 2017 study based on 10 years of data, researchers saw a 60 percent increased incidence of breast cancer in women that was directly related to the length of time they were on the Pill, even in women who were using the newer progestin-releasing IUDs (like Mirena and Skyla).
Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood clinic director and author of “Unplanned,” recently told Natural Womanhood that she recalls seeing contraceptive health risks: “At my clinic, we had a patient with a perforated uterus because of an IUD; we had a 26-year-old girl with complications after receiving Depo Provera injection…. After I got my Mirena IUD removed, I realized [it] had made my body infertile…. We were infertile for a year and a half.” Johnson also used Depo Provera at one time,which caused chronic headaches and intracranial hypertension.“Nobody told me when I got my IUD, ‘FYI, you might not be able to get pregnant after this.’” Johnson decries. “And ‘hey after this Depo shot, you may have intracranial hypertension, and if you’re not medicated for that, you could go blind.’ No one had told me these things, and I had worked for Planned Parenthood.”
3. The mental health side effects are dangerous.
The mental health risks that come with contraceptive use are disturbing, but rarely discussed. Dr. Littell says, “What I have seen mostly in recent years is the increasing number of women suffering from depression due to the hormonal alteration from these methods (including hormonal IUDs like Mirena, and implants like Nexplanon), but many refuse to come off due to the overwhelming fear of pregnancy or other gynecological issues.”
The mental health risks of contraception became impossible to deny when in 2017 the American Journal of Psychiatry published a study of nearly a half a million Danish women, in which the girls and women using hormonal contraception were 97 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those not taking the drugs, and were 200 percent more likely to succeed in their suicide attempt. While these numbers are chilling, few people hear about the risks, so they don’t realize what’s causing the mixed emotions when they come.
Safe, Side-Effect-Free Alternatives
Too many women and doctors don’t know there are safe, side-effect-free alternatives to hormonal birth control when it comes to both preventing pregnancy and resolving health issues. Modern, evidence-based fertility awareness-based methods (FABM), often called Natural Family Planning (NFP), empower women to know more about how their bodies work and acknowledge fertility as an integral part of their overall health. And despite getting a bad rap from some who erroneously equate FABMs with the Rhythm Method, FABMs like the Creighton Model or SymptoThermal Method boast rival or better-than typical-use effectiveness rates at avoiding pregnancy than the Pill.
Unfortunately, Lila Rose says, “the government, through its funding programs, has made the decision to promote the Pill over more healthy NFP methods. It spends our tax money to hand out harmful synthetic birth control drugs to American women, yet it won’t use that money to help patients buy the equipment to practice natural fertility awareness methods. Whether intentional or not, this decision says to women that the government is more interested in population control than their health.”
Slowly, women are starting to educate themselves and seek alternatives to the Pill for their health needs and goals. Doctors and speakers at Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS) are furthering education about FABMs at medical schools, to help ensure patients have more information about alternative methods. And even the FDA recently cleared the charting app Natural Cycles for marketing as a method of pregnancy prevention. So, there are signs of progress. God willing, before long, women will be better equipped to make truly informed choices for their health care. And for so many Catholic women who were automatically prescribed the Pill by a doctor in their teens for a health condition or irregular period? They can rest assured that on this issue (as with many), science and faith are on the same side, even if science has taken a little longer to realize the wisdom of the Church’s consistent teaching on the use of contraceptive drugs and devices.
Mary Rose Somarriba is the editor of Natural Womanhood and an associate editor of Verily Magazine. Follow her at MaryRoseSomarriba.com.