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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXII, No. 4
Christmastide 2007

Bioethics Watch:
Adventures in Pill Land

by Nancy Valko, RN

The Pill has gotten a lot of press lately. With the shameful Connecticut law forcing even Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B (an overdose of the birth control pill) to all rape victims to the shocking disclosure that a Maine school board approved school nurses distributing the Pill to junior high students without parental consent or notification, the Pill is promoted as a panacea for all sorts of societal problems.

On a more personal level, during the last few years, the Pill has been marketed to young women as a way to help such difficulties as acne, premenstrual syndrome and, when taken continuously, a way to avoid the menstrual cycle entirely.

Not touted, of course, are the Pill’s known dangers such as heart attacks, blood clots, and depression, to mention just a few. And there are now concerns about the Pill’s association with some cancers, even breast cancers.1 But the pro-contraception “sexperts” continue to maintain that such problems are rare and that the benefits of the Pill still far outweigh the risks.

Until one of those “problems” happen to you or a loved one.

Of course, back in the 1970s when I was a newly engaged young woman, we didn’t know there were any physical drawbacks to the Pill. My fiancé and I had heard about the encyclical Humanae Vitae and that Pope Pius VI wasn’t in favor of the Pill but we were fuzzy on the specifics.

Having just signed on a new home, we felt we were not ready to start a family immediately after marriage but we did want to follow the Church’s teaching. We knew that even priests were divided on the issue but, in the interest of fairness, we chose a priest at random from what would be our new parish.

“Father Jack” (not his real name) assured us that, in our situation, using the Pill was not a bad decision. He also said that not using artificial contraception was the ideal promoted by the pope’s encyclical but as long as we intended to have children in the future, it was not a sin to use the Pill temporarily. This was exactly what we wanted to hear and I started taking the Pill one month before our marriage.

In those days before package inserts came with medication, I — as well as the rest of the women I knew — thought the Pill was 100% safe and effective. I was concerned when I immediately gained weight and had to be stuffed into my wedding dress but weight gain was the only side effect of the Pill that I had ever heard about.

After marriage, I reveled in the fact that I was married to the man of my dreams but, inexplicably, I also had times when I felt really sad and even had random thoughts of suicide. I was worried but I never confided this to anyone. I assumed that such thoughts were the result of my lifestyle change because I knew in my heart that I was happy.

Eighteen months after our marriage, my husband, a doctor himself, came home breathless and told me to immediately stop taking the Pill. He had just read a study on the dangers of the Pill and he said nothing was worth my possibly dying from a heart attack or stroke. The pills were trashed that day.

Within a short time, however, I suddenly realized that I was actually feeling good and that the suicidal thoughts had ceased. It finally occurred to me that it was the Pill itself that was affecting me. I never took it again.

I’d like to say that we stopped artificially contracepting that day but that didn’t happen. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and had a spiritual awakening when my third child was born with a life-threatening heart defect that I finally read Humanae Vitae and went to a Natural Family Planning (NFP) talk sponsored by the Couple to Couple League at my parish. What an eye-opener!

My husband and I were stunned by the truth when the instructor said that fertility is not a disease to be treated but rather a gift from God. We learned about the negative effects of the Pill and other artificial contraceptive methods. Most importantly, we learned about the physical, spiritual and emotional benefits of NFP.

My husband was concerned about the effectiveness of NFP in postponing pregnancy, especially since I had just had a C-section but, as I wryly told him, “I guess this is why they call it faith.”

NFP worked beautifully for us and I became a big promoter. Our commitment as husband and wife became deeper and richer because of NFP. I was also delighted to know exactly when our next child was conceived and finally win a due date argument with my obstetrician.

I saw my doctor’s new partner at my six-week checkup after Joy was born and I was shocked when he asked me what kind of artificial birth control I planned to use. I told him NFP but he responded by saying that NFP “was too hard”. I told him it wasn’t but he countered that it could be dangerous to take such a risk so soon after my fourth C-section. I told him the statistics on NFP, which proved that it was as least as effective as the Pill in postponing another pregnancy. I then went on to list the spiritual, emotional and physical benefits of NFP. I don’t know if I convinced him but at least I planted a seed. I have since learned that even many pro-life doctors unfortunately prescribe the Pill and other artificial methods.

It wasn’t until many years later that I also learned that the Pill may even cause silent abortions by sometimes preventing an embryo from implanting in the uterus.2

On the bright side in the last several years, NFP has also formed the basis for Natural Procreative Technology (also known as NaPro) that has allowed many couples who were thought to be infertile to finally have babies. NaPro is often a viable as well as ethical alternative to in vitro fertilization and other technologies. [See article on NaPro, “Health Care Women Really Need”, by Sister Renee Mirkes in Voices Pentecost 2006 — Editor.]

The late Pope John Paul II begged all of us to start a culture of life to counter the culture of death that we see today. Unfortunately, most polls show Catholics are just as likely to use artificial contraception as anyone else.

We need to recognize that abortion and euthanasia didn’t just suddenly spring forth in our culture. The stage for these evils was set with the acceptance of the contraceptive mentality.

Notes
1 “The Pill and Breast Cancer Risk — Is Anyone Listening?”, by Timothy P. Collins, MD, Ethics and Medics, March 2007. Online at: www.ncbcenter.org/em/0703-2.aspx (requires subscription.)
2 “Birth Control Pill: Abortifacient and Contraceptive” by William F. Colliton, MD, FACOG, American Association of Pro-life Obstetrician and Gynecologists. Online at: www.aaplog.org/collition.htm.

NFP resources:
Natural Family Planning resources compiled by Sara Fox Peterson, including Catholic Church teaching. Online at: http://www.catholicmom.com/nfpresources.htm.

The Creighton Fertility System Model. Online at: http://www.creightonmodel.com/ NaPro Technology, Pope Paul VI Institute. Online at: http://www.catholicinfertility.org/naprotechnology.html.


Nancy Valko, a registered nurse from St. Louis, is president of Missouri Nurses for Life, a spokesperson for the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses and a Voices contributing editor.


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