by Nancy Valko, RN
Entirely too often, we Catholics and other people of faith find ourselves on the defensive when it comes to controversial issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, etc. We can forget that Catholicism is based on natural moral law and the innate sense of right and wrong written in every rational heart. It’s not surprising, then, when objective facts and consequences support what the Church teaches. The issue of “free” birth control is a case in point. Even without the strong moral, psychological and spiritual arguments against “free” birth control, the facts speak for themselves.
This past August, I was asked to participate in a radio debate with Paula Gianino, the local head of Planned Parenthood, on the topic of the new Obama administration mandate forcing health care insurance programs to provide “free” contraception to women starting next year as part of the Affordable Health Care for America Act.1 Although the topic was limited to drugs like the Pill in this debate, the new “preventative services” mandate would also cover such things as the potentially abortifacient “morning after” pills, surgical sterilization, “well woman” visits, domestic violence screening, sexually transmitted infection counseling, breast feeding support and supplies, and more.
The host was Charlie Brennan, a locally well-known critic of conservative values, but even he challenged Ms. Gianino when she stated that 99% of women had or were using artificial birth control and that most health insurance companies cover some of the cost. Why then, he asked, should taxpayers be paying the co-pays for these drugs since women were obviously already getting them? And wouldn’t health care insurance costs rise?
Ms. Gianino responded that although Planned Parenthood didn’t charge some poor women for their contraceptives, many other women coming to Planned Parenthood struggled with their copays, especially in this economy. Knowing that Planned Parenthood already receives more than $300 million annually in tax-funded support, I asked why Planned Parenthood didn’t have a foundation to cover the copays for these allegedly cash-strapped women like the pro-life movement that supports women in crisis pregnancies without charge.
I also pointed out that this mandate was an economic boon for Planned Parenthood, especially since so many states are trying to defund the organization because of its recent scandals and its involvement with abortion. In addition, this mandate for “free” birth control would further Planned Parenthood’s ultimate goal to remove any restrictions on abortion, taxpayer-funded or not. In many people’s eyes, the term “legal” means acceptable but “free” means good.
When Ms. Gianino repeated the old Planned Parenthood argument that contraceptives are truly preventative in reducing unplanned pregnancies and abortions, I quoted from the May 2011 report of the Guttmacher Institute (the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, which now claims it is independent guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html) online that stated “Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant” and that of the other 46% of women who had abortions while not using contraceptives, the cost of contraceptives was not even mentioned as a factor.2
Other points I was able to raise during the 30-minute debate and telephone call-in show included:
• Fertility is not a disease, and powerful hormones are not vitamins. It is sadly ironic that health-conscious women are choosing hormone-free food for themselves and their families but don’t think twice about ingesting potent hormones to “treat” their own fertility.
• There are serious health risks to women including life-threatening blood clots that, as a nurse, I have seen at least twice with teenagers.
• Why isn’t Natural Family Planning which is drug-free, low-cost and enormously effective in both postponing and achieving pregnancy included in this allegedly non-political mandate?
• How do you answer the man who questioned the fairness of “free” birth control by pointing out that his heart pills are truly preventative but not free?
• Forcing health insurance companies to cover “free” birth control demonstrates one of the biggest problems with the proposed Affordable Care Act: mandates developed by unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats without congressional oversight or public input.
• There are even serious environmental concerns about contraceptives passing into the water supply despite filtration techniques,3 and that affects all of us.
Other Risks and Consequences
Most people are unaware of the multitude of risks and consequences physical, psychological and spiritual of artificial birth control. The media has to take a large share of the blame because it influences not only the general public but also government and research entities.
It has become obvious that the mainstream media is overwhelmingly liberal, especially on social issues. Therefore, for most mainstream journalists, the perceived need for artificial birth control is unquestioned and even defended as a right. Even when recalls or studies show serious problems with a birth control drug or device, the media reacts with reassurances about overall safety rather than concern. Contrast this with the constant headlines of alarm over preliminary studies of other drugs, supplements or even standard food products. The result is that most of the public is left in the dark when it comes to artificial birth control.
For example, have you ever read an article about the World Health Organization classification of the birth control pill as a class-I carcinogen (cancer-causing agent), the same category that includes cigarettes?4
Did you know that oral contraceptives have been specifically linked to breast cancer5 and can cause loss of bone density in young women?6 And how many doctors inform women that the Pill can cause depression7 and, most ironic of all, loss of libido (sexual interest)?8
The list of potential complications is lengthy.
Also ignored is the fact that the widespread use and promotion of the birth control pill and condoms still has not resulted in a spectacular decline of either abortions or unplanned pregnancies. However, this same widespread use and promotion of birth control has indeed led to the glorification of abortion, the corruption of sexual morality, and more single mothers.
Instead, we see the media tout the birth control pill as the greatest invention of the 20th century and the major source of empowerment for women. The Pill is hailed as safe for almost all women or girls and even beneficial for conditions like acne.
But the problem is not only with the media. When was the last time you heard a homily on artificial birth control? Will you hear a sermon now on how “free” birth control threatens conscience rights and religious freedom? Why do some conservative and even pro-life groups often avoid the topic of birth control?
And how many more times will we find ourselves standing by a coffin instead of a crib as fewer and fewer of our young people are having more than one child or any at all? When did we start counting babies as carbon footprints instead of blessings? What will it take for us to wake up to the dangers?
I must admit that I was one of the willingly uneducated for several years. The nagging of my conscience that I was not truly in union with the Catholic Church by using the Pill never went away despite the assurance of a priest that my husband and I had “good reasons” to use it.
It wasn’t until my third child, Karen, was born with problems that I was forced to re-evaluate my relationship with God and stop making excuses. I started by reading Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s beautiful encyclical on marriage, children and birth control. I joined a Natural Family Planning group at my parish. I researched Planned Parenthood and the history of birth control. In other words, I finally started truly thinking and questioning the conventional wisdom about artificial birth control.
I have been richly rewarded by this knowledge, and I hope you are or will be.
The culture of life encompasses many issues leading to one goal: respect for every human life. None of these issues can be ignored. Artificial contraception was crucial for the legalization of abortion. To reverse this, we must understand that we, our children, and our society deserve better than the sterilizations, drugs, and devices that produce and sustain this contraceptive mentality.
1 CBS St. Louis, KMOX radio. Charlie Brennan Show. August 2, 2011. Online at: stlouis.cbslocal.com/2011/08/02/charlie-brennan-tuesday-august-2nd/.
2 “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States”. Guttmacher Institute, May 2011. Online at: guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.
3 “Contracepting the environment Birth-control poisoning of streams leave U.S. environmentalists mum” by Wayne Laugesen. National Catholic Register, July 11, 2007. Online at: catholic.org/national/ national_story.php?id=24681.
4 “Learn about Cancer”. American Cancer Society. Online at: cancer. org/Cancer/CancerCauses/OtherCarcinogens/GeneralInformationaboutCarcinogens/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens.
5 “The Pill and Breast Cancer Risk: Is Anyone Listening?” by Timothy P. Collins, MD. Ethics and Medics. The National Catholic Bioethics Center. Online: illinoisrighttolife.org/BreastCancerRiskFromPill.htm.
6 “Study: Low-Dose Birth Control Pills Decrease Bone Density in Young Women” by Thaddeus Baklinsi. LifeSiteNews, January 21, 2010. Online at: lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2010/jan/10012103.
7 “Birth Control Pill and Depression”. all-on-depression.com. Online at: all-on-depression-help.com/birth-control-pill-and-depression.html.
8 Birth Control Pill May Permanently Reduce Sex Drive Study Finds”. LifeSiteNews.com, May 26, 2005. Online: lifesitenews.com/news/ archive/ldn/2005/may/05052603.
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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