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Another Look at Contraception

 

To some, the Catholic Church's consistent teaching against birth control may seem outdated. Yet with each passing year, evidence of contraception's negative consequences keeps piling up, revealing profound repercussions on women, children, families, and society.

Some Contraceptives Can Cause Early Abortions

Advocates of contraception claim it doesn't cause abortions. However, that claim rests on an inaccurate redefinition of "pregnancy" as beginning only after an embryo successfully implants in the mother's uterus. This, then, excludes from the meaning of abortion all pills and devices that cause the death of an embryo before implantation. Yet it's scientifically indisputable that a new human life begins when an embryo first forms at fertilization—6 to 8 days before implantation.

Physicians' textbooks and handbooks reveal that some types of contraception sometimes work by preventing a living, developing, embryonic baby from reaching the uterus and successfully implanting, which results in his or her death.1

Physical Risks for Women

Contraception also presents significant health risks for women. Combined oral contraceptives (COCs), as well as contraceptive patches and the "ring," have long been known to cause cancer (of the breast, cervix, and liver).2 They also substantially increase the risk of potentially life-threatening blood clots,3 which have resulted in heart attacks, strokes, and hundreds of deaths in healthy young women. 

Through the Church's teaching, God invites us to a fuller, richer, deeper way of life and love.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) present other risks. For example, the following are just some of the warnings by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about one common IUD: septic shock and death may occur in the event of pregnancy; about half of pregnancies are ectopic; the device may embed, perforate, or penetrate the uterine wall, resulting in its migration outside the [uterus], adhesions, peritonitis, intestinal perforation/obstruction, abscesses, and erosion of adjacent internal organs.4

From Pill to Poverty

Without the contraceptive pill, the sexual revolution couldn't have happened. Few women were willing to risk pregnancy outside of marriage. Economist George Akerlof has shown how that dynamic abruptly changed with the contraceptive pill, leading to "the feminization of poverty."5

Told that the pill would prevent pregnancy, women had sex without the promise of marriage. Because women controlled the decision to contracept, give birth, or undergo abortion, however, many men reasoned that they were not responsible for children conceived outside marriage. Indicating men's denial of responsibility: "Shotgun marriages" soon plummeted, while out-of-wedlock births nearly tripled. In less than two decades (1965-1984), abortions among unmarried women grew from an annual 88,000 to 1,271,000.

Throughout the past decade, at least 40 percent of children each year are born to unmarried mothers who are often left struggling in poverty to raise children alone. According to Child Trends, "in 2015, 43 percent of children living in single-mother families were poor, compared with 10 percent of children living in married-couple families."6 Poverty and the absence of a child's biological father in the home are two of the strongest predictors of poor academic, emotional, and behavioral outcomes in children.

Contraception Is Unreliable

How could abortions and nonmarital births skyrocket if women are contracepting? With typical use, most contraceptives are far from reliable, especially for teens, who are twice as likely as adults to become pregnant while using contraceptive pills, patches, or rings.7 Every year, one million of the 11 million U.S. women on the pill become pregnant, and 40% of them undergo abortions.8

What Does Our Catholic Faith Offer?

God's love is generous, sacrificial, life-giving, and forever. As humans made in God's image, we are called to imitate the eternal giving and receiving of love that is the Holy Trinity. We can do this in a unique way through marriage—a vowed communion of a man and a woman who enter a "one flesh" union open to bringing forth a new human life. "The whole meaning of marriage is present and signified"9 in each act of marital sex, so the love-giving and life-giving purposes of sex should not be separated.

At the same time, for serious reasons, in exercising responsible parenthood, a couple may "decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time."10 In these cases, "the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile."11

Thanks to the research of countless doctors and scientists, modern, fertility awareness-based methods of natural family planning rival and even surpass12 the effectiveness of contraceptives while posing no risks to mothers or unborn children. In fact, couples using such methods report better sex, improved communication, and the ability to identify underlying causes of infertility.13 (To learn more, visit www.foryourmarriage.org/family-planning.)

In short, through the Church's teaching, God invites us to a fuller, richer, deeper way of life and love.

Copyright © 2018, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.



[1] R.A. Hatcher et al., Managing Contraception 2017-2018. Tiger, Georgia: Bridging the Gap Foundation.

[2] V.J. Cogliano et al., "Preventable exposures associated with human cancers," Journal of the National Cancer Institute 103 (2011) 1827-1839, 1831; available at https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/103/24/1827/937010; accessed April 21, 2018.

[3] A. van Hylckama Vlieg et al., "The venous thrombotic risk of oral contraceptives, effects of oestrogen dose and progestogen type: results of the MEGA case-controlled study," British Medical Journal 339 (2009) b.2921; available at https://www.bmj.com/content/339/bmj.b2921; accessed April 21, 2018.

[4] Mirena Label, available at https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2008/021225s019lbl.pdf; accessed April 21, 2018.

[5] G.A. Akerlof et al., "An analysis of out-of-wedlock child-bearing in the United States," Quarterly Journal of Economics 111:2 (1996): 277-317.

[6] https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/children-in-poverty/

[7] "The Daunting Downside of Condoms, Pills, and Injections," Managing Contraception, Feb. 27, 2017; available at  http://managingcontraception.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/BTG-Dauniting-Downside-2-2017F.pdf; accessed April 21, 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] "Life Matters: Love and Marriage," Respect Life Program, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Washington, D.C.), 2011, available at http://www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/respect-life-program/2011/upload/life-matters-love-and-marriage-bulletin-insert.pdf, accessed April 21, 2018.

[10] Paul VI, Humanae vitae (On the Regulation of Birth) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1968), no. 10. See also Natural Family Planning Program, "Responsible Parenthood," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, available at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/catholic-teaching/upload/Responsible-Parenthood.pdf; accessed April 21, 2018.

[11]Ibid., no 16.

[12] The website of Facts About Fertility has up-to-date facts on fertility and the fertility awareness-based methods of family planning. The Medical Update (https://www.factsaboutfertility.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Medical-Update-about-FABMs-April-2015-1.pdf) shows the pregnancy rates of 7 methods; accessed April 21, 2018; R. Fehring and M. Schneider, "Extended effectiveness of an online Natural Family Planning service program."  MCN The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing 42 (2017) 43-49; M. Manhart et al., "Fertility awareness-based methods of family planning: A review of effectiveness for avoiding pregnancy using SORT," Osteopathic Family Physician 5 (2013) 2-8; available at https://www.factsaboutfertility.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2013-Manhart-et-al-Review-of-Effectiveness-Osteopathic-Family-Plysician.pdf; accessed April 21, 2018; R. Fehring et al. "Randomized comparison of two Internet-supported fertility awareness-based methods of family planning" Contraception 88 (2013) 24-30.

[13] J.T. Bruchalski, MD, "Hope for Married Couples who Want to Have a Child," USCCB Respect Life Program (2010); http://www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/respect-life-program/upload/Hope-for-Married-Couples-Who-Want-to-Have-a-Child.pdf; F. Doyle, "My Slogan: Practice Saved Sex!"; http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/awareness-week/upload/Fletcher-Doyle-article.pdf

 

Excerpts from Humanae vitae, © 1968 Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2018, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.



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