Contributed by Annamarya and Sara
Last week, Free Press published “Forget contraceptives, go natural, church teaches” an article about how the Detroit archdiocese is stepping up efforts to promote natural family planning (the practice of letting one’s God control childbearing instead of using preventive medicine) as the birth control pill marks its 50th anniversary this year. The problem with the Catholic Church spreading this message does not lie in the idea itself – if you choose a higher power to determine if you have offspring, who am I to judge? The real issue lies, instead, within what they’re teaching: that, says the piece, the “artificial birth control not only violates church doctrine, it harms women’s bodies and the environment.” Such half truths are irresponsible and risky.
How so? According to the piece, one ob-gyn, Dr. Daniel Greene from Rochester Hills, Michigan, stopped prescribing the pill five years ago after “he became convinced the drugs could lead to everything from headaches to cancer.” Clearly, his Catholic upbringing played a role in this decision as he claimed at the recent US Conference of Catholics Bishops that he now feels “closer to God” and he’s “providing a better service” for his patients. What’s dangerous about Dr. Greene’s cancer assertion is that it’s inconclusive at best. According to the National Cancer Institute, while some studies show an increased risk of breast cancer in women taking oral contraceptives (OCs), others, like the 2002 New England Journal of Medicine’s Oral Contraceptives and the Risk of Breast Cancer study, allege such a risk is not augmented significantly from current or former OC use. In addition, other cancer risks associated with the pill, which is known to reduce the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer, are minimal. The Institute indicates an increased risk of liver cancer linked to OC use but only in women considered at low risk for it and, while data show an elevated risk of cervical cancer, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the major risk factor for the disease. So, while an understandable concern is there, the choice to take the pill should be left up to the female patients – not Dr. Greene – after they’ve heard, accurately and honestly, what benefits and possible risks come with taking it. Religion should be kept out of the doctor’s office and, if it’s not, then doctors should disclose all sources of information, including personal moral opinions, to their patients before making recommendations to them. That’s how you provide a better service to patients.
But it’s not only the lack of factual information that’s harmful to the people listening to this credence– it’s how the Church tries to police women’s bodies through fear and guilt. A prime example of this are the Church’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which, according to the National Abortion Federation, exist to keep women from undergoing abortions by misinformation and intimidation. The Free Press piece mentions that not only does the Church believe “sex removed from procreation leads to immorality” (that includes homosexuality, masturbation and the use of contraceptives), but some Catholic leaders claim the “wide use of the pill” can count for the “general decline in societal morality, as seen in higher rates of divorce, abortion, pornography use and out-of-wedlock births.” These allegations are also inconclusive – according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics Reports Birth: Final Data for 2006 study, the birth rate percentage per 1,000 unmarried women did go up from 43.8 percent in 1990 to 50.6 percent in 2006 but the NCHS 2000 report, Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940-99shows the increase use of contraceptives (pill, condoms, injectable or implant contraceptives) has played a role in the declining rates of pregnancy among unmarried women from 1988 to 1995. (Side note: the US Census Bureau’s Abortions by Selected Characteristics: 1990 – 2005 table shows the percentage of abortion per 1,000 women went down from 27.4 in 1990 to 19.4 in 2005, and its Marriages and Divorces – Number and Rate by State: 1990 to 2007 table shows the percentage of divorces per 1,000 population went down from 4.7 in 1990 to 3.6 percent in 2007).
Overall, one can’t say couples are wrong for choosing to leave childbearing up to their God but that decision should be made only after they’ve received the proper information. This way, when they do decide to go sans contraceptives, they know it’s because they want to take that chance, not because they’re afraid of risks and statistics that do not exist.