On July 13, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first over-the-counter hormonal contraceptive. The progesterone-only “mini-pill” is expected to be on drug store shelves as early as next year. While the secular media frames this as a win in the fight for reproductive rights, this is really a victory for the culture of death.
Catholic teaching on birth control
In the decades leading up to the initial FDA approval of hormonal contraceptives, Christian denominations were united in their opposition to birth control. The Catholic position against contraceptives was rearticulated in light of this invention in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which argues that contraception violates the total, faithful, fruitful gift of the spouses to one another that is proper to the sacrament of marriage.
While the document encourages couples to engage in “responsible parenthood” characterized by prayerful discernment regarding the spacing of births, it condemns the use of artificial means to render the marital act infertile. This is a rejection of God’s authority and a refusal to accept the total gift of one’s spouse in that act — including his or her fertility.
Amidst dissenting voices in the Church, Paul VI prophetically proclaimed the consequences of widespread contraceptive use we see today: rampant infidelity, promiscuity, pornography, and governmental population control.
Links to abortion
In addition to the harm of separating the procreative and unitive aspects of marriage, hormonal contraceptives are gravely immoral because of their inseparable relationship with abortion.
Contraceptives of all types have led to societal dependence on abortion. Because every contraceptive method has a failure rate, their widespread use perpetuates the myth that these technologies can “prevent” pregnancy. It is more accurate to say that contraceptives “lessen the likelihood” of pregnancy. Even a failure rate as low as 1% each month compounds to an unintended pregnancy rate of 70% over 10 years — and that is for standard contraceptives. The mini-pill has an even narrower margin for error; it must be taken daily within a three-hour window to be effective. Over half of the 600,000 to 1 million annual abortions in the United States occur after failed contraceptive use.
In addition to the marital and societal harms common to all contraceptives, hormonal contraceptives and IUDs (even the nonhormonal copper devices) carry additional harms. According to the FDA inserts of all hormonal contraceptives, these medications work in part by thinning the lining of the uterus. When these medications fail by their primary mechanisms to prevent ovulation, fertilization can occur. However, because the lining of the uterus has been thinned, the fertilized embryo has no place to implant and is passed by the mother’s body unbeknownst to her via a normal period. While some “experts” argue that it is a “myth” to characterize contraceptives as abortifacient in this way, they can only do so because they have redefined pregnancy to begin at implantation. By their definition, pregnancy can never end prior to implantation because it hasn’t yet begun. Those of us who recognize the scientific fact that human life begins at fertilization and the moral principle that every human life has value can recognize that intentionally ending that life is wrong — however you define “pregnancy” or “abortifacient.”
Finally, from a virtue ethics standpoint, a contraceptive mentality in which children are to be feared and avoided is poor preparation for welcoming and loving children unconditionally.
Risks and alternatives
Moral objections aside, the health risks and side effects of hormonal birth control alone ought to give us pause. Hormonal contraceptives are associated with increased risk for breast and cervical cancer, osteoporosis, depression, suicide, sexual dysfunction, increased susceptibility to developing autoimmune disorders like hypothyroidism and Crohn’s disease, and potentially fatal blood clots and stroke. I can attest to these risks personally, having almost died from a serious blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that doctors attributed to hormonal contraceptives.
Add to that brain and mood changes and it is no wonder so many women are seeking natural alternatives. The Church has been promoting effective natural family planning (NFP) methods of observing cycle symptoms for years, with methods like Creighton even offering women medical solutions to the gynecological symptoms conventional medicine only masks with the pill. It also offers women the chance to work with their fertility when seeking to conceive through NaPro technology.
The budding FemTech industry is taking note, with devices like TempDrop and the Oura Ring (used in combination with FDA-approved app Natural Cycles) providing women with wearables that measure fertility data and chart it automatically.
Protecting young girls
Hormonal contraceptives do not belong on drug counter shelves. This is not a Tylenol. These are not medications that should be widely available without physician — and parental — consultation. Young girls will now be able to access these medications anonymously, and should they present with any of the aforementioned side effects, who will know?
Both the health risks and the gravity of the consequences when hormonal contraceptives fail are beyond the capability of young girls to grasp and to which they can truly consent. What happens when the contraceptives fail? Even after the fall of Roe v. Wade, minors can still walk into a Planned Parenthood for an abortion — without parental consent — in 13 states.
When we are willing to remove safeguards for children against very real risks of unintended pregnancy, lifelong health complications and death — all for the sake of convenience — that is a culture of death, indeed.