Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Let's talk about birth control pills...

Pope Francis’ appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Sarah…of course he’s a man…don’t be unsettled by his gender-confusing name meaning “princess”…recently offered remarks at a National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.  The Cardinal delivered a message of woe and bad news, precisely what one might…not…expect from a representative of the gospel’s “good news.”  Ironically, Cardinal Cross-Namer / Princess / Sarah fears, among other things in the US, transgender people.  His list of fearful miseries is so long, I’m impressed he muscled courage to enter my country at all.  His message might be summarized as “gloom, despair and agony on thee.”

His remarks actually aligned with Pope Francis’ bleak outlook on families expressed in Amoris Laetitia, Chapter 2.  I won’t offer too many comments on that document because it truly will require an entire blog article devoted to the topic.  But in that document and Sarah’s comments, in addition to painting families as experiencing numerous miseries, both guys felt qualified to practice medicine without a license, a felony crime in my and many other states.  By that I mean both men disparage, belittle and mock women’s reproductive health.  Sarah outright demonized it and cited it as an example of Satan attacking families.

Paragraph 42 of Amoris Laetitia, “…the  decline  in  population,  due  to  a  mentality  against  having  children  and  promoted by the world politics of  reproductive health, creates not only a situation in which the relationship  between  generations  is  no  longer  ensured but also the danger that, over time, this decline  will  lead  to  economic  impoverishment  and a loss of  hope in the future.”

In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis doesn't go as far as Sarah's equating it with outright evil.  Francis merely attributes reproductive health as the culprit for economic poverty and losing all hope.  Wow, that is one whopper statement and condemnation which unfortunately is not supported by facts.  The actual facts indicate poverty tends to align directly with cultures having limited or restricted access to birth control...such as those in Cardinal Sarah's beloved homeland continent of Africa, or Francis' homeland continent of South America.

In Cardinal Sarah’s remarks he positioned “…your beginning to accept contraception within healthcare programs” as an example of “demonic” attacks by Satan and overall general erosion of God in America.  How God, an omnipotent, omnipresent being, is eroded escapes me but Cardinal Sarah is quite convinced.

Maybe these guys have the same exemplary grasp of human female biology as the seminarian I mentioned in my last blog article who was convinced that birth control pills abort conceived babies instead of preventing conception. In the interest of educating the clergy, I will spend some time overviewing medical uses for the hormone therapy drugs commonly called “birth control pills.”  If you read this and feel your favorite church hierarchy member would benefit by the education, please forward it to him with my blessing.

O.K. Pope Francis, Cardinal Sarah and all other clergymen severely lacking understanding of female reproductive health, lend me your attention for a few moments.  Sisters of the Poor and other self-righteous religious organizations trying to prevent your employees from accessing these medications, please pay attention too.

First, the hormones in birth control pills are estrogen and progestin.  They are naturally found in the female body.  They are not the anti-Christ.  They are not evil.  They are not going to end civilization. 

The use of these hormones in some medications prevents ovaries from releasing an egg.  A consequence of no egg is there is nothing to fertilize.  However, there are many medical reasons to suppress ovulation. 

Second, surveys have found more than half of the women who use these medications do so for reasons unrelated to contraception.

Third, and this is especially in here for the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor who sued the US government in an effort to block their employees from having insurance coverage for these medications, insurance covers drugs that are on the formulary.  They don’t give a crap for what reason the medication is prescribed.  If the drug isn’t on the formulary, it’s not covered – case closed.  So, my dear bishop who repeatedly says that women with the following conditions would have their medication covered, you are incorrect.  I can provide you with a copy of the letter my daughter who suffers one of these conditions received from Ascension Healthcare, her employer.  It plainly tells her that her evil (my editorial addition) medication is not covered.  As an aside, the “tsk, tsk, tsk, you bad girl” is actually only implied in the letter.

Here’s a quick list of non birth control reasons to prescribe estrogen and/or progestin
  1. 10% of women suffer menorrhagia (heavy bleeding) leading to severe anemia in cases such as mine.  Since the guys reading don’t have menstrual periods, let me describe what I mean by “heavy bleeding.”  Think of soaking to the point of overflowing multiple large sanitary pads in an hour.  In some cases, that’s actually multiple Depends adult diaper garments soaked in an hour.  Now go re-read the first part of this paragraph.  10% of women, that’s one in every ten women of menstruating age suffer this.  These medications dramatically reduce menstrual bleeding.  This is not prescribing medication for some sad little hangnail but for a debilitating condition.
  2. 90% of women suffer painful to debilitating menstrual cramps.  Yes, you read that correctly, 90% - nine out of ten women.  The degree to which they experience pain varies but for many women, the pain is debilitating. When the pain is debilitating, these medications often provide great relief.
  3. 60% of women who suffer migraines do so associated with the hormonal swing of their menstrual cycle.  This is also debilitating.  In smoothing out the hormonal fluctuations, these medications can be tremendously helpful  controlling the condition.
  4. 10-15% of women suffer Endometriosis.  This is where the endometrium (uterine lining) grows in places other than the uterus.  It damages reproductive organs and scars sometimes to the point of causing infertility.  It can be excruciatingly painful.  For example, a young lady very close to me used to vomit every day, not every day of her period, EVERY DAY OF HER LIFE from the pain.  Have you ever experienced such pain on a daily basis?  Can you really be so cruel as to expect women to live in that kind of pain without relief when medication is readily available to treat it?  By the way, this same young woman, before hormone therapy, used to bleed rectally, from her breasts, from her nose and even once from the pores of her hands.  This bizarre bleeding is perhaps not always debilitating but it does make socializing difficult.  By the way, women with endometriosis take “birth control pills” so that they can conceive children in addition to relieving debilitating pain.
  5. These medications treat polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormone imbalance that causes irregular periods, ovarian cysts (which can be extremely painful), and infertility.  Women with PCOS also take “birth control pills” so that they might be able to conceive.
  6. These medications dramatically reduce risks for some kinds of cancers – ones for which there are not yet good screening tests
  7. Sometimes these medications are prescribed for severe hormone imbalance associated with pre-menstrual syndrome.
I try to live by a few mottos: a) Assume positive intent and b) seek first to understand.  By this I mean I try to assume that people generally do things with a good intention in mind.  And when something seems awry, before drawing conclusions, I try to understand by gathering the facts, talking to people directly involved, and consulting experts.  Why, in the case of hormone therapy, do hierarchy members and religious zealots instead a) assume negative intent and b) ignore facts and/or never bother trying to understand them?

Keep in mind, any medication is a tool and tools can be applied for positive or negative outcomes.  For example, a person can use a hammer to bludgeon someone but a person can also use it to build a home for a homeless person.  Don't condemn the tool outright.  After all, most women using birth control pills are doing it for controlling a medical condition - a positive thing even in the eyes of the clergy.  So, the default view should be with its most common usage...controlling medical conditions.  Instead the hierarchy dismisses the tool as "evil" due to associating the tool only with what it perceives are negative applications of the tool.  Should I await your lobbying for outlawing hammers, too?

In the interest of living by my motto, I assume that Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah have good intentions and I have tried multiple times to engage in dialogue to understand why the hierarchy comes to such strange conclusions about women without speaking to them.  And so, any clergyman who would like to discuss this topic in sincerity, please contact me.  My daughter who is a doctor is happy to sit with us to discuss female reproductive health.  This is not a pawn topic in world politics as Francis suggests in Amoris Laetitia.  It is something that impacts women every day.  They suffer physical pain beyond some people's imagination and it is wrong to heap psychological pain upon that with fact-free religious edicts trumpeted from high atop Mt. Morality, a land primarily inhabited by single men.


  1. Ewe are so eloquent!!!
    Thank you for sharing your insights.

  2. I'm not convinced your argument, good as it sounds, is actually accurate. At the same time, I think there's another argument that needs to be made.

    When I say it isn't accurate, I mean that any medication which has contraceptive capacity is first of all a medication. Contraception, according to the USCCB, refers to the prevention of pregnancy. That is a matter of intent.

    In each of the cases you mention, the intent of its use is not to prevent pregnancy. Its use is to help heal, or at least mitigate, an unhealthy situation. Therefore, in each of these cases, it is not a contraceptive, even though preventing pregnancy may be a secondary effect of its use. It is, instead, a valid medication used to treat unhealthy situations.

    Now, I doubt that many Catholics, perhaps not even the Little Sisters, are aware of the distinction. Or, they may simply not want to have to deal with it. But it is a real distinction nonetheless. Unfortunately, it's being bundled together in lawsuits as though it is all part and parcel of the same thing, with the result that the wellbeing of many women is being put at risk. That, for me, is scandalous.

    The other issue, however, is that Church teaching on the use of contraception is itself somewhat open to question. The Church teaches that non-natural uses of medications and other devices to prevent pregnancy fall outside being open to the generation of new life, and are therefore inappropriate, even sinful. The key element here, however, is the openness to the generation of new life, not the question of how that openness is ensured or frustrated. I question, therefore, that even processes like Natural Family Planning can be legitimately used if their use is intended to prevent pregnancy. The couple are, a priori to any method or action, not open to the generation of new life, at least at this particular time. NFP is simply their way of giving form to their lack of openness.

    Now, I'm all in favour of NFP or similar "natural" means as a method of being closed to pregnancy, over the use of chemicals (no matter how much they, within the body and in the right balances, are "natural"). Just as with organic gardening, I prefer non-chemical means to chemically-based means of achieving the desired end. But when the Church gives openness to the generation of life as a sine qua non for any act of sexual intimacy, and that openness is deliberately frustrated, I believe the use of a contraceptive instead of NFP is a matter of degree, not a matter of intent in being open to life versus being closed to life. Both (unless being used specifically to help have children, as NFP can be) are forms of living out the same intentional refusal to entertain procreation.

    I'm not saying a refusal to entertain procreation at any particular time in history is a bad thing. I think there are many situations which call for such a refusal. But until our Church comes to grips with the intent of the person who acts, rather than just the act of that person, we will never adequately deal with the issue.

    And statements such as that by Cardinal Sarah (a gentle and holy man in his own right), will continue to cause grief.

    1. You are actually reinforcing the point I was making. The intentions are quite varied. However, with insurance in the US, a drug is either on or not on the drug formulary. If it is not on, then it doesn't matter what intention there is for using the drug, the drug simply is not covered. Catholic institutions such as hospitals are barring the drugs from the formulary. Thus, it is not covered by insurance even for intents that the hierarchy might support. They say that it is, but I hear repeatedly from women like my daughter, that they cannot get their medication covered because the drug is simply not on the close.

  3. Working for a Roman Catholic hospital, I was outraged when my 11 year old daughter was denied "birth control" medication which was prescribed for a severe dermatological condition. We proceeded to go to a different pharmacy, and not use our insurance benefit. My daughter now will have nothing to do with Roman Catholicism, and who can blame her. No one has a right to dictate healthy choices on this level, but they do it anyway.

  4. wow. you have a really angry post on this one topic and you are unfortunately wrong about "the pill" not being an abortficiant. It is. You will want to research that a bit more. Another abortificiant is nuva ring, and those copper iud. Even after stopping these contraceptives, the lasting effects of weeks and up to years of abortaficiant abilities exist.

    1. Actually, I was not at all angry. I was expressing facts. My reference resource was medical doctors so I am going to stand by my statements regarding birth control pills. There are different versions of it. I think perhaps you are confusing a different oral medication with the medication typically taken for birth control.

  5. Hi Ewe,

    Pew research, Guttmacher research and census shows that RC women and men have never accepted the teachings of the church on birth control. It has been resoundingly rejected by the practices of more than 90% of Catholics for almost 50 years. That's the Sensus Fidelium!

    BWB is wrong. You are correct that the birth control pill is not abortifacient.