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  A Christian Faith Magazine March 2003, Volume 8, Issue 8  
Taking the Pill?
Fr. Paul Check
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One could make a very good case that the most important invention of the latter part of the 20th century was the Birth Control Pill. By "important" I do not mean "good" or even "useful," but rather "significant in impact." The dramatic change in American sexual morality over the last 40 years depended upon the availability and reliability of the Pill. The Church's opposition to contraception is well-known but not well-understood. It is a shame that many who have such strong feelings about contraception have never read Pope Paul's encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Birth Control Pills

Interestingly, paragraph 15 of HV addresses a question of importance for those women whose doctors have prescribed the Pill for various therapeutic reasons. Indeed, the Pope allowed for the "impediment to procreation" caused by the Pill when that circumstance (ie. temporary sterilization) is foreseen but not intended. Said differently, there is no moral problem (with one important qualification discussed below) when a woman takes the Pill to control a very real and painful condition, as long as she does not at the same time intend to use the Pill to prevent a birth.

However, there is more to be said here both medically and morally. First of all, the Pill was not designed to cure cramping, bleeding, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, etc., but to prevent births. In fact, this is the only use for the Pill that is specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (cf. Physicians' Desk Reference). While it is true that the Pill may help relieve certain symptoms, there are doctors who doubt the wisdom of the routine prescribing of the Pill for the conditions noted above. The Pill: How does it work? Is it safe? I encourage women and especially the parents of teenage girls who are currently taking the Pill to contact the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha (402-390-6600 or www.popepaulvi.com) for good medical advice.

Pope Paul VI
Pope Paul VI

On a related matter, the manufacturers of the Pill claim that oral contraceptives reduce the risk of various forms of cancer in women. Writing in the Chicago Tribune (March 8, 2000 in Woman News), oncologist Dr. José A. Bufill said, "The only conclusion to be made regarding the health benefits of oral contraceptives is that none can be made with confidence."

From a moral standpoint, there exists a very important consideration for those women taking the Pill for therapeutic reasons. The Pill is not only a contraceptive but also an abortifacient: It can produce a chemical abortion without the woman's knowledge. The Pill thins the inner lining of the uterus and so renders it unable to support the implantation of an embryo. It is true that the Pill works primarily by suppressing ovulation. However, up to 19% of the time "breakthrough ovulation" will occur. Since the pill altars the chemistry of the woman's body, there is no reliable means for her determine the time leading up to when an egg might be produced. Therefore, the only morally sound course of action for a married woman taking the pill at the advice of her doctor is to refrain from conjugal relations until she is no longer taking the pill.

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