Tag: contraception

UPDATED: What did the Pope say on the way back from Mexico…?

The headlines this morning told us the following – “Pope Francis Says Contraception Justified in Regions Hit by Zika Virus” (WSJ, Francis Rocca – may require subscription) “Pope Suggests Contraception Can…

By Aleteia Image Department [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Aleteia Image Department [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The headlines this morning told us the following –

Many other articles carried similar headlines. I cite these three because they are all written by journalists whom I’ve known to have very high journalistic standards. All of them agree that he stated that abortion was not an option, regardless of the Zika virus. None of them offered a direct quote saying that contraception is permissible in the regions affected by Zika. Inés San Martín offers this clarification in her piece –

Regarding the “lesser of two evils” when it comes to contraception, Francis said that it’s a fight between the 5th Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) and the 6th Commandment (Thou shalt not commit adultery). But he avoided giving a definitive response.

Catholic News Agency provided a transcript of the entire press event aboard the papal flight to Rome. It’s an unofficial English translation. Pope Francis offers this answer to Paloma García Ovejero of Cadena COPE (Spain) regarding the question of using abortion or “avoiding pregnancy” in these areas.

Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape. Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned. On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.

Admittedly, the Pope cautions to not “confuse” and in fact seems to offer a confusing,  not-clear answer. What is clear is that the only way one can understand this to be an endorsement of contraception would be to equivocate the meaning of the term “avoiding pregnancy.” He refers to a specific example of Paul VI reportedly allowing some nuns in specific conflict ridden areas who were at high risk of being raped to use contraceptives. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard of this case many times and have yet to see the documentation on it. Regardless, it’s a very, very specific use of contraception, one in which the women in question are leading celibate lives to start with.

UPDATE: Here is the official Vatican version in Italian. Still somewhat confusing. No change in the teaching on contraception. 

UPDATE: For those interested in the specifics of the case allowing contraception by Paul VI, as far as I can tell it was allowed under the teaching of Paul VI. It’s still not clear that he directly approved it. Regardless, I don’t see any problem with it other than that I think more should be done to protect nuns in these situations… But that’s just my opinion. Here’s one summary article in Italian. In English, you can get the book Ethics of Procreation and the Defense of Human Life: Contraception, Artificial Fertilization, and Abortion, by Martin Rhonheimer. You can find a preview of the section in question here.

And it seems that the Pope might also be thinking of fertility awareness (natural family planning) or simply abstinence,  in which case “avoiding pregnancy” would not be wrong in and of itself. With due respect to CNA’s work to provide a transcript, I’ll leave it to you to look up the sections on civil unions and Donald Trump. It’s easy to see why there’s confusion. At the same time, the Pope cloaks his answers in all sorts of conditions.

Here’s the lens I would offer. It’s a confusing transcript and sometimes he speaks in ways that lead different listeners to arrive at their own varied conclusions. It strikes me that he’s very Jesuitical in his thinking. By this I mean that he’s thinking of every possible scenario when asked a question…and he seems to do a lot of thinking out loud…which causes serious confusion. It creates headlines that stay emblazoned in the memory of a world which is supposed to have a short term memory. It creates work for every type of Catholic leader and teacher – clerical, religious, and lay.

But he’s not changing Church teaching. In order to do that he would have to promulgate the change in a way that is accessible to everyone, starting with the Bishops. It would also have to be clearly enunciated in an official document and it would have to be a teaching that could be changed, something like allowing girls to be altar servers. Interviews on a plane hardly fit the description.

Yes, these statements cause headaches for some and celebrations for others. But faithful Catholics and others of good will need to remember to not take things at face value when they’re first reported. It’s always important to do one’s research.

I look forward to the official Vatican transcript and the official English translation. It will be helpful to compare the two.

In the meantime, I can see why the journalists reported as they did. They acknowledged the confusion while at the same time did not offer any direct quotes. That in itself is a huge help to a careful reader looking to understand a situation. It also points to the fact that a solid argument could be made that the Pope needs to be more precise in his statements.

Nevertheless, I look back at our first Pope, St. Peter. I see what he’s recorded as saying in the New Testament. So very often, he’s wrong. But he was still the Pope and carried out his office in a saintly way even if his soundbites weren’t so good.

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Link Between Birth Control and MS?

A new study indicates that there may be a link between some forms of oral contraceptives and multiple sclerosis. As a Catholic, I see a lot of reasons as to…

A new study indicates that there may be a link between some forms of oral contraceptives and multiple sclerosis.

As a Catholic, I see a lot of reasons as to why the Catholic teaching on birth control makes sense. Others have done a fine job explaining those reasons, most notably Prof. Janet Smith . Patrick Coffin also does a great job in his book Sex Au Naturel. And of course, there’s Simcha Fisher. There are many others, but these are a few to address the basic question of Church teaching.

However, as a woman, I am particularly offended at what birth control means for women.

  • It’s primarily their responsibility. Judging from the anecdotal evidence of women who carry condoms with them, it appears that men can’t even be expected to provide their own contraception.
  • The health risks for women are minimized or all together left out of the conversation. Have  you ever looked at the insert that comes with the pill? That alone suggests that it isn’t “perfectly safe” for women. In conversations with doctors or nurses, as I defend my decision to not use it, I have yet to encounter one who would address the health concerns delineated in the package itself.

There’s been talk and research suggesting a link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer. In 2005, the World Health Organization labeled some forms of hormonal birth control as a Class I carcinogen. Then they changed the information on their website. Dr. Gerard Nadal did some sleuthing and you can read about it here.

But now we have a study linking some forms of the pill (a form of hormonal birth control) to MS, a terribly debilitating disease.

From the article reporting on the study:

Among some 4,300 women in Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California system from 2008 to 2011, those whose most recent oral contraceptive contained norethindrone had a 57% higher risk of definite MS or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) (odds ratio 1.57, 95% CI 1.16-2.12) compared with plan members who had no record of oral contraceptive use, said Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, of Kaiser’s Southern California Los Angeles Medical Center.

Oral contraceptive users whose most recent product contained levonorgestrel showed a similar increase in risk, with an odds ratio of 1.75 (95% CI 1.29-2.37), Langer-Gould said during a poster session here at theEuropean Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis annual meeting, held jointly this year with its North American counterpart.

….The findings shed new light on a previous Kaiser study that had found a 35% increase in MS risk with oral contraceptives generally, Langer-Gould said.[Emphasis mine.]

The article concludes:

Langer-Gould acknowledged that the associations found in the study could be spurious. It was a retrospective analysis of administrative records, and the available data did not cover all potential confounders, such as diet, vitamin D status, or lifestyle factors other than smoking.

Could be spurious. Might also be horribly accurate.

Look, I don’t agree with the use of contraception; but I also don’t think someone’s health should be compromised by using it.

Maybe print out the article and share it with your health care provider. The word needs to get out.


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Why the Hobby Lobby Decision Brings Out the Feminist in Me

The more I think about it, the more the Supreme Court’s decision on the Hobby Lobby case bothers me. I don’t disagree with the decision, but I don’t like what…

The more I think about it, the more the Supreme Court’s decision on the Hobby Lobby case bothers me.

I don’t disagree with the decision, but I don’t like what it reveals about our culture. Case in point, Deroy Murdock listed all the contraceptives that were covered by Hobby Lobby before the decision and that would be covered after the decision.

Here you go –

  1. Male condoms
  2. Female condoms
  3. Diaphragms with spermicide
  4. Sponges with spermicide
  5. Cervical caps with spermicide
  6. Spermicide alone
  7. Birth-control pills with estrogen and progestin (“Combined Pill)
  8. Birth-control pills with progestin alone (“The Mini Pill)
  9. Birth control pills (extended/continuous use)
  10. Contraceptive patches
  11. Contraceptive rings
  12. Progestin injections
  13. Implantable rods
  14. Vasectomies
  15. Female sterilization surgeries
  16. Female sterilization implants

Sixteen. And only two of them are used by men. The other fourteen are a woman’s “responsibility.” [The Supreme Court decision simply backed Hobby Lobby’s decision to not fund the other four included in the HHS mandate which can work as an abortifacient by causing the embryo to not attach to the wall of the uterus, thereby causing this unique human organism – that’s science, not religion – to die.]

If we’re supposed to be dealing in a world of equality, shouldn’t there be a few more types of contraception that apply to men? After all, they’re the ones who are fertile all or most of the time.

Some of the hormonal contraceptives have had fatal effects on women. (Google it.) Makes it seem like women are sort of … disposable.

Every once in a while, a news story will surface about a pill for men. And then it disappears. I think it’s Prof. Janet Smith in her “Contraception, Why Not?”  talk who referenced early attempts to create a pill for men, but some of the men in the study suffered…”shrinkage.”

Death v. “shrinkage.” I’ll just leave it at that.

But there is news of a remote controlled birth control computer chip that could be implanted in a woman for up to sixteen years. A remote control could be used to turn it on and off.

Wow. Just wow.

Can we not see the potential for abuse? Does it take a Law & Order SVU episode to see how a woman’s fertility could be controlled by a man – an abusive husband, boyfriend, pimp, trafficker. And so on.

As it was, I didn’t think that contraception empowered women. This list just reminds me of how much women can be burdened with contraception, particularly the responsibility for any child that might be conceived. Maybe the dad can be forced to pay child support, but that’s it.

And, by and large, we as a culture are ok with that.

This is exactly the result of some forms of feminism that concentrate  on a woman’s pelvic region.

So much for progress.

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No Discussion, Please. We Want Diversity.

Oh that ignorant Catholic Church. Once again, it has a different view from those who preach “diversity.” The Catholic Church in Poland has come under attack for apparently challenging “gender…

Oh that ignorant Catholic Church. Once again, it has a different view from those who preach “diversity.”

The Catholic Church in Poland has come under attack for apparently challenging “gender workshops,” a type of sex-ed class in the schools that present children with “alternatives” to permanent monogamous heterosexual relations. According to an article in Our Sunday Visitor, the circumstances are not quite clear. Nevertheless, in a column for the theguardian.com, Agata Pyzik attacks the Church in a way that makes it seem that she, the Church, and other critics of the Church are at least agreed upon the subject of the dispute, namely the “gender workshops” and accompanying topics like abortion and contraception.

Think about it. The gender agenda, inclusive of same-sex marriage, is probably the largest social experiment in the history of humanity. And it’s being driven by anything but science. Gender is a fluid notion despite the scientific fact that the human person’s sex is determined at conception.

It’s interesting that at the same time that most European countries won’t stand for altering the integrity of food produce with genetically modified organisms [GMOs], the integrity of the human person is discounted insofar as one’s sex is considered to be arbitrary, changeable, even mistaken, not an integral and essential part of who we are even though…again…it’s determined at conception. That’s pure science. Not religion, not the Bishops, not the Pope. There is no human being created who is not male or female and yet the significance of that seems to count for very little in some circles.

Obviously people are going to have different thoughts and feelings about policies impacting society in such a profound way. At the very least, differing view points ought to be discussed, pondered, and explored. Instead, any suggestion that perhaps this experiment needs some rethinking or perhaps children  should not be the guinea pigs of a vast social experiment (an EXPERIMENT!), results in an attempt to shut down the dissenting voice[s]. Then again, this is Poland we’re talking about. Perhaps the decades of Communism have left a deeper impact than we thought, namely that a voice that challenges a questionable and potentially harmful idea should be shut down, especially if it’s the Catholic Church. After all, a 2,000 year-old institution has no experience to draw upon…

Pyzik discusses the issue assaults the Church for its actions to stop the “gender workshops.”[A quick internet search turned up this bio which describes her as a writer whose primary interest is “(post) Communist Eastern Europe.”] She refers to a recent comment by actress Meryl Streep to Polish politicians:

“I thought that after years of communism you’d caught up with the west in a social-cultural sense.”

Pyzik notes, however,

“… it was during the People’s Republic when women in Poland enjoyed civil and reproductive rights.

“Enjoyed”? Last I checked, the flow of traffic, had the borders been open, would have been out of Communist countries, not into them, precisely because human rights were not acknowledged and supported by law. The rates of abortion in Communist countries have been notoriously high, due to factors like population control, economic conditions, and a basic lack of hope for the future.

Let’s talk about contraception for a moment. Back in 2005, the World Health Organization repeated its 1999 finding that hormonal contraception is a Group 1 carcinogen for humans, in other words hormonal contraception creates a serious cancer risk for women who use it. Yet, Pyzik is not alone in mistakenly seeing it as a part of women’s “rights” or “health.” The current HHS mandate in the U.S. makes the same assertion, apparently without any thought to women’s health.

Given that we’re talking about a very serious drug with dangerous side effects, shouldn’t doctors and pharmacists be able to make the decision to refuse to expose a patient to the danger of a particular treatment? It’s not as if a patient has a right to any medication that she deems necessary. That’s left to the doctor’s discretion. Ethical doctors don’t automatically write prescriptions without first diagnosing the patient and then considering the effects (good and bad) of the treatment. Doctors who are driven by an agenda rather than the health of the patient, well they’re unethical.

But this abortion+contraception = women’s rights formula is all part of a tired, albeit all too successful trope. If something is repeated often enough, it seems true no matter how dubious it might actually be.

I’ve listened to women who have had abortions. Many women. I’ve only had one tell me years after that it was a good choice for her. I’ve met with and researched doctors who work in the developing countries who would like to provide safe maternal care. Instead they are provided with contraceptives…even though their patients want safe deliveries and healthy babies.

With regard to the gender issues, Pyzik complains:

Even scientists speak in one voice with the church: the Polish Academy of Sciences published a letter in which they called the gender workshops an attempt at “unseating children from their own sex”.

I dunno. When I question a scientist, it’s about methodology, not whether or not the scientist agrees with the Catholic Church.

How about measuring progress in terms other than abortion, contraception, and how one chooses to use one’s genitalia? And while we’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to have an open discussion about a major, major, major social EXPERIMENT.

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Happy World Contraception Day

Ooops, I’m late. (Pun intended.) In case you didn’t know, Monday, September 26, was “World Contraception Day,” so designated by a coalition of ten NGOs. (h/t Teresa Tomeo) Guess they…

Ooops, I’m late. (Pun intended.)

In case you didn’t know, Monday, September 26, was “World Contraception Day,” so designated by a coalition of ten NGOs. (h/t Teresa Tomeo) Guess they didn’t know that over at Grey’s Anatomy either. (Back to Grey’s in a second.)

As I’ve noted before, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (research arm of Planned Parenthood), claims that 46% of the women having abortions have not used a contraceptive during the month in which they became pregnant. In other words, 54% of the women seeking abortions used contraception the month they got pregnant.

I’m willing to accept that the fault might lie more with user error than the method, but the point is that just about every woman in the U.S. knows about contraception and has access to it. In fact, the challenge for many of us is to get through our ob-gyn visits without being pressured to use contraception. Plus, there are plenty of free clinics or you can skip a couple of fancy coffees and buy a few condoms or some contraceptive sponges at your neighborhood drug store. Access is not the problem. Personal responsibility is.

Which brings me back to Grey’s Anatomy. Kathryn Lopez drew attention to the intentionality behind the abortion story line in the last episode. Yes, that abortion was meant to happen. Character Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh), a surgeon with a great future before her, gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion. The start of the procedure is shown as the episode finishes. Her dutiful husband, also a surgeon, holds her hand.

First, neither of these characters are “dumb teenagers” or “disadvantaged.” They are highly educated doctors with access to the best scientific and medical information available. They have no religious affiliation, so they can’t be “duped” by their religious beliefs. Nothing about their life before marriage had anything to do with an abstinence only curriculum. And…they are married.

If they didn’t want children, they’d have the knowledge and the means (with no religious or moral scruples to hinder them) to avoid the conception of a new life.

Plus, Cristina is no stranger to pregnancy. She was pregnant in the first season and avoided an abortion since the pregnancy was ectopic and, therefore, removed. Maybe the show’s creator Shonda Rhimes forgot to write in the abstinence education and wine cooler part of surgical residency.

In all fairness, I think Rhimes has done an interesting job examining abortion and other bioethical issues in her other show, Private Practice. Yes, last season closed with an abortion, but there were a lot of other provocative and good messages in at least the past two seasons (notwithstanding the doctors’ sexual mores which appear to have nothing to do with “safe sex”). Grey’s Anatomy also had a very good episode on teenage pregnancy and adoption.

If things like “World Contraception Day” are going to be effective, then the surrounding culture has to support it. This means that people have to use contraception effectively and need to assume responsibility for their sexual behavior. If people in developing countries know what causes babies, what’s our excuse?

Maybe contraception is inherently flawed. It promotes a false sense of security, whether for the man or the woman.

A couple has a little too much to drink. Or he decides that it’s really not his problem anyway. Or she decides that she really does want a baby. Or that she really wants to get married and this is a way to force the matter. Or a gazillion other reasons.

The point is that contraception makes it seem like you don’t have to worry about long term consequences when in fact you do…all of the time, all of the month, not just on the days when you remember to take a pill or the occasional time that you remember to use a device or condom.

If contraception really worked, we wouldn’t have 54% of women seeking abortions as a result of pregnancies conceived while they were using contraception. And we wouldn’t have story lines like the recent Grey’s Anatomy episode.

Shonda Rhimes and the Alan Guttmacher Institute have done nothing to hide their beliefs in favor of contraception and abortion. But their own work belies the ineffectiveness of a culture that relies on contraception to govern sex.

Our sex drives are strong and real, sometimes unbearably strong even when wine coolers and ulterior motives are not part of the picture. Maybe contraception is not enough. Maybe we need to become more realistic about sex and all its implications.

Maybe, just maybe, sex with no strings attached creates problems regardless of contraception. Maybe sex demands ultimate vulnerability of both partners even if they are using contraception. Maybe that’s not possible with contraception.

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