Birth Control Question

I’ve been listening to Catholic radio lately and they seem to speak a lot about birth control…sad to say, I’m quite horrified about all the deaths and lawsuits that are really never spoken of in the mainstream media related to artificial contraception.

I know that the Church is completely against artificial contraception, but there’s another issue that I’m confused on, that I can’t seem to get a straight answer for: birth control can be prescribed for issues other than “birth control:” it can be used for acne or reducing the hemorraging (sic) of monthly periods. etc. In other words, females who use birth control may be using it for something other than birth control, and may not be sexually active at all-nor intend to use it for actual “birth control.”

So, what is the teaching of the Church with regards to a woman who may be using birth control as medication and not for actual “birth control,” and is celibate? In other words, not using it for artificial contraception at all, and the individual is single?

It seems complicated to me, because when I looked in the Catechism for a potential answer, I’m not seeing the words “birth control” or “contraception.” Is there an official answer, or just a variety of different opinions as to what the answer should be?

Let’s ask the question this way, and it might help clarify the situation: is it morally licit to take hormonal medications for the regulation of menstruation or the control of acne? The answer to that question, clearly, is ‘yes.’

Let’s move a bit further: if a known side effect of such a course of treatment is its contraceptive effects – and in particular, its abortifacient effects, is it morally licit for a married person to use this course of treatment, knowing its effects on her reproductive system? Moral theologians would say ‘no.’ (And, let’s not forget that a single woman who is sexually active is already committing grave sin, so there’s no change in that answer for her, either, and there’s also the problem that she would be compounding sin upon sin!)

As I understand the situation, there are other medicines that address the medical concerns (e.g., acne, menstruation complications) but which are not contraceptive; a Catholic woman should take the initiative to discuss these alternatives with her physician.

Finally, let’s look at a roughly analogous situation: is it morally licit for a woman to have a glass of wine daily for its health benefits? Absolutely. Is it morally licit for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine daily for its health benefits? No!!! We would be aghast to see a pregnant woman drinking alcohol on a daily basis! So… why would we think that it’s ok for a woman who’s taking hormones to engage in conduct that might mean that she’s killing her newly-conceived children? :shrug:

There’s nothing complicated at all in the case of the single woman.

The woman is receiving medical treatment. This is perfectly acceptable. It just happens to come in the form of synthetic hormones that are used in other cases as contraception.

Secondly, it cannot be contraceptive since she’s not having sex.

So, no problem.

Then…even if she were married and having sex, the principle of double effect allows for the unintended evil of contraception, as long as the intended good (the medical treatment) is proportionally greater. This can be difficult to judge, but married women should not fear that they cannot receive legitimate medical treatements for a number of serious conditions (bleeding, PCOS, endometriosis, etc), even if sterility is an unintended side-effect.

This is covered in Humanae Vitae:

  1. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

I hope that helps clarrify the situation.

This is not true, and has been addressed by the apologists on this forum a number of times, such as:

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=30815&highlight=abortion+medication

and

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=4618

It does, but not in the way that you think it does. :wink:

The pill does not “cure bodily diseases.” Rather, it treats symptoms. Humanae vitae is not advocating the use of the pill for the sake of acne or menstrual cramps. Rather, if there was a ‘therapeudic means’ that could ‘cure’ a disease, it would be morally licit to utilize it.

Firstly, you should check the links provided which confirm what I “think”.

Secondly, treating symptoms is itself medically responsible. Do we not allow pain medication? Such treatment is specifically a treatment of a symptom. If you have a headache you take pain relief, even though that obviously treats the mere symptom. Nonetheless, the pain relief cures your headache. In the same way, hormonal treatment cures endometriosis (as an example).

Thirdly, I’ve heard this numerous times regarding hormonal treatment merely masking the causes. This is a complicated medical issue. In many cases, the “causes” are simply not known. What “causes” PCOS or endometriosis? There may be different factors in any given case, and often no way to know what exactly is the cause. eg often weigh may be a factor, so a woman suffering such condictions should lose weight. But this won’t apply to a woman of normal weigh, so what does she do? Continue to suffer the pain and potentially dangerous bleeding associated with such conditions because we shouldn’t treat her symptoms? Again, I refer you to the links I offered.

With all due respect to Michelle and Fr Vincent, I think they’re getting it wrong, in this case. Here’s the reason why: Michelle is appealing to Humanae Vitae #15 in order to give the thumbs up to abortifacient birth control. This would seem a mischaracterization of the document: HV is not giving “unqualified approval”, as she asserts. Rather, it is explicitly qualifying the approval in terms of impediments to procreation and curing bodily diseases. In her explanation, Michelle extrapolates and includes the abortifacient effects of birth control; HV #15 in no way includes abortifacient side effects in its discussion. Note that the abortifacient effect of the pill is not an “impediment to procreation;” when it acts in an abortifacient manner, procreation has already taken place. Therefore, her assertions go too far in the application of the principles in HV #15.

Fr Vincent, on the other hand, is making an argument based on double effect: the abortifacient effect of the pill is, in fact, an unintended side effect of the use of the pill for other medical therapies. However, that does not, by itself, prove the liceity of the use of the pill in this case. In order to make the argument, it would be necessary to show the following:

The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides four conditions for the application of the principle of double effect:

[list]*]The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
*]The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
*]The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
*]The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect[/list]

(Quoted from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the Doctrine of Double Effect).

I would assert that it would be necessary to demonstrate that, in a practical application of this argument, there is no means by which the patient “could attain the good effect without the bad effect.” However, this consideration does not, strictly speaking, nullify Fr Vincent’s assertions.

Unfortunately, though, I think his assertion fails the fourth requirement: “the good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect.” Essentially, Fr Vincent is arguing that the alleviation of symptoms (e.g., acne, menstrual cramps, symptoms of endometriosis) is ‘sufficiently desirable’ that the death of the child may be allowed. I would assert that this is in error: the alleviation of symptoms, regardless of their severity, would seem never to be outweigh the consideration of the death of an innocent child in the womb. (Even if we were to say that the pill cured a disease, rather than simply treated a symptom, we’d still have to say that the cure of that disease outweighs the death of the child… which, I think, is fair to say that it doesn’t.)

Please note – I’m not casting aspersions on Michelle or Fr Vincent personally; I just think that they’ve gotten this one wrong, for the reasons I’ve outlined above.

Blessings,
G.

I have; please see my post. :wink:

Secondly, treating symptoms is itself medically responsible. Do we not allow pain medication? Such treatment is specifically a treatment of a symptom.

Yes, but the citations you provide do not cover “treatment of symptoms” as what makes it morally licit; it’s the “cure of bodily diseases”. :wink:

In the same way, hormonal treatment cures endometriosis (as an example).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the pill isn’t completely effective in curing endometriosis; in many cases, the symptoms return when the person stops taking the pill. In other words, the pill generally only treats symptoms.

so what does she do? Continue to suffer the pain and potentially dangerous bleeding associated with such conditions because we shouldn’t treat her symptoms?

What to do, with a reasonable certainty of moral liceity? Seek out other courses of treatment that do not have contraceptive or abortifacient side effects. If no such courses of treatment exist, then taking the pill – but practicing abstinence – would be the morally licit course of action.

:thumbsup:

I certainly don’t wish to go round and round in this issue, as many threads have covered the topic.

I think anyone can read the links I offer and make their own best judgements in this case.

I will note just a couple of areas where I think you are incorrect though:

The term used is yes “impediment to procreation”. The failure of a fertilised egg to implant is indeed an “impediment to procreation”. If they had meant impedement to fertilisation/conception they should have used that term. The term used is a broader one and I do not agree with your reading of it. Neither would it seem would the two apologists cited here (and I could of course offer many more).

The comparison is not between the treatment of the condition and the death of a child.

The comparison is between the treatment of the condition (which itself has inflated health/mortality risks for the woman) with the potentially heightened ratio of lost pregancies.

Regardless, Michelle Arnold addressed this very issue.

The tragic fact is that a startlingly high number of pregnancies are lost, sometimes without any knowledge of the parents that there ever was a pregnancy, and even when contraception is not used. Given this naturally high pregnancy-loss rate, if using a particular drug, for legitimate purposes, heightens that ratio somewhat, the Church has not, as yet, considered that proportionate reason to require spouses to either abstain from marital relations or to forego necessary treatments for diseases suffered by one of the spouses.

And as I noted above, failure to treat such conditions as PCOS and endometriosis will increase the health risks for the woman long term. So that comparisons are not so easy to draw.

I will also note that theologians will weigh the good of the marriage in this test of proportionality too - that total abstainance from sex itself may harm a marriage.

I certainly have some sympathy for your viewpoint, and anyone facing such dilemas will need to weigh the issues very seriously.

There are no currently known “cures” for endometriosis, if we take your meaning here. Even surgury, often considered the best treatment, will not guarantee that symptoms do not return. And I specifically noted endometriosis as it is the condition Michelle Arnold was addressing.

She, and many other apologists/theologians, consider the use of the pill (or other hormonal treatment) as a morally acceptable treatment of endometriosis, with no requirement for married couples to abstain.

Taking the pill, and continuing with marital relations, is also morally licit according to many theologians.

At this point I think we must agree to disagree. I have offered sources that others can consider for themselves. I don’t wish to go round and round here.

thecatholicspirit.com/columns/making-sense-out-of-bioethics/the-pill-as-health-care/

There are alternatives to The Pill:

stlouisreview.com/article/2012-05-03/catholic-doctor

I also recommend:

catholicpediatrics.com/articles/alternatives-adolescent-birth-control-pills

For other problems that occur before or after the first child, I suggest women contact:

aaplog.org/ and onemoresoul.com/

Peace,
Ed :slight_smile:

You can find a faithful Catholic obgyn who will not prescribe birth control. I have one. She is treating my issues with other meds, which are not birth control. If you cannot find a doctor on your own, you can find an NFP teacher, through either CCL or Creighton, and they can help in finding a doctor. Also, there is the Pope Paul VI Institute for reproductive health. I believe they have lists of doctors in various areas. popepaulvi.com/

Fair enough.

I will note just a couple of areas where I think you are incorrect though:

The term used is yes “impediment to procreation”. The failure of a fertilised egg to implant is indeed an “impediment to procreation”. If they had meant impedement to fertilisation/conception they should have used that term. The term used is a broader one and I do not agree with your reading of it.

Allow me to defend my use of it, then. Let’s take a look at Dignitatis Personae, the CDF’s 2008 Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions. In presenting your definition of certain terms, what you’re attempting to do is to defend your assertion that the use of an abortifacient – which prevents implantation – might be defended as morally licit in some cases. Let’s look at the document, at #23:

Alongside methods of preventing pregnancy which are, properly speaking, contraceptive, that is, which prevent conception following from a sexual act, there are other technical means which act after fertilization, when the embryo is already constituted, either before or after implantation in the uterine wall. Such methods are interceptive if they interfere with the embryo before implantation and contragestative if they cause the elimination of the embryo once implanted… [T]he use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral.

Your case is explicitly interception – that is, the interception of an embryo prior to implantation. DP unambiguously states that the means of interception are abortive and are gravely immoral. In other words, DP is explicitly saying that your arguments do not hold up. :shrug:

The comparison is between the treatment of the condition (which itself has inflated health/mortality risks for the woman) with the potentially heightened ratio of lost pregancies.

No, that doesn’t work, either. A “potentially heightened ratio of lost pregnancies” is not the effect of the pill; the effect is the prevention of implantation. Are you really suggesting that, when a doctor prescribes the pill, his intent is “a potentially heightened ratio of lost pregnancies”??? LOL… :wink:

And as I noted above, failure to treat such conditions as PCOS and endometriosis will increase the health risks for the woman long term. So that comparisons are not so easy to draw.

Agreed; and I’m not advocating a “failure to treat PCOS and endometriosis”; rather, I’m advocating a failure to treat PCOS and endometriosis with the birth control pill. That’s a rather important distinction. :wink:

I will also note that theologians will weigh the good of the marriage in this test of proportionality too - that total abstainance from sex itself may harm a marriage.

Agreed; abstinence may harm a marriage. Yet, are you really suggesting that “harm to a marriage” outweighs the killing of an innocent human life?

anyone facing such dilemas will need to weigh the issues very seriously.

Agreed; it’s not a situation that I’d wish on anyone:frowning:

I agree with you. :thumbsup:

Humanae Vitae #15 talks about “impediments to procreation” resulting from attempts to “cure bodily disease”. “Impediments to procreation” refers to diminished fertility, not to abortion - which is never licit, even if those pimples are really bad. :stuck_out_tongue:

Examples:

  1. Cancer chemotherapy - can cause low sperm counts and a “chemical menopause” in some women, but is being given to cure a disease: licit.
  2. Antipsychotics - can indirectly affect fertility by suppressing the normal menstrual cycle, but are being given to treat schizophrenia. licit.
  3. Sodium valproate - can cause polycystic ovaries (and therefore, infertility) in a small number of women, but is given to treat epilepsy. licit.

Now, it’s interesting to note that both (1) and (3) would probably be illicit during pregnancy (at least the early phases), because chemotherapy can harm the child, and valproate can cause birth defects.

This document is discussing something different - specifically regarding *intended *abortions. As Fr Serpa noted, we are not discussing intended abortions here. Again, please read his post since it clearly addresses this very point.

Firstly, we are not discussing the effect of the pill when it is prescribed as a contraceptive. I of course agree that such is immoral.

Secondly, when I say “heightened ratio of lost pregnancies”, that is the words used by Michelle Arnold and a suitable summary of the effect being considered here. If (which is why I say “potentially”, since we don’t know) a breakthrough ovulation occurs, and if it is fertilised, and if it fails to implant, that is the unintended secondary effect. If the pill is properly effective in supressing ovulation for any given woman, then this effect is entirely negated. This is a purely hypothetical matter, which makes weighing the good and bad effects particularly difficult.

I do not deny that it’s a hard task for any married couple to weigh these matters. But I happen to subscribe to the conclusions that Michelle Arnold and Fr Serpa (and many others) draw regarding the general principles involved. Each couple must weigh the specifics of their circumstances for themselves, and with a trusted pastor if needed. And good medical advice of course.

It is true that the document discusses intent. However, paragraph 23 mentions the relevant criterion: direct abortions. And, in the citation I provided, it doesn’t make any exception for intent. Rather, it simply – and without exception – states that interception falls within the definition of abortion. If it meant to say “unless intent isn’t present,” it would have said so. It didn’t. :shrug: So, the plain meaning couldn’t be more clear: interception is gravely sinful. Period. Full stop.

As Fr Serpa noted, we are not discussing intended abortions here. Again, please read his post since it clearly addresses this very point.

Again, please read Dignitatis Personae; it doesn’t provide an exception for intent in its discussion of interception of implantation. I appreciate that you would like it to be the case that it does so… but it doesn’t.

Firstly, we are not discussing the effect of the pill when it is prescribed as a contraceptive. I of course agree that such is immoral.

Agreed; yet, your case was that “heightened ratio of lost pregnancies” was the effect of the pill. That’s clearly not the case. The pill doesn’t create a “heightened ratio;” it contracepts and kills babies. No rationalization can change that fact, even if that rationalization includes a discussion of the horrible effects of PCOS or endometriosis. :shrug:

If (which is why I say “potentially”, since we don’t know) a breakthrough ovulation occurs, and if it is fertilised, and if it fails to implant, that is the unintended secondary effect.

That’s a reasonable claim; interception of implantation is clearly an unintended effect in the case we’re discussing. Yet, it’s a claim that Dignitatis Personae does not permit.

If the pill is properly effective in supressing ovulation for any given woman, then this effect is entirely negated. This is a purely hypothetical matter, which makes weighing the good and bad effects particularly difficult.

It would be “purely hypothetical” if the pill were “properly effective in supressing ovulation.” In that case, it would purely be a question of HV’s notion of ‘disease cure’ (as opposed to ‘symptom treatment’). Yet, the pill is not “properly effective” in all cases. Therefore, it’s a discussion of whether the pill is abortifacient in some cases. I think that all who wish to tell the truth will admit that sometimes, the pill acts in an abortifacient manner. Now, if you can produce a document that says that occasional interceptive abortifacient action is morally licit, you might have a reasonable argument. Given that DP says something different – that interception is abortive and gravely immoral – it would seem that you cannot make this case. If you have some other magisterial document upon which you base your argument – rather than the opinion of non-magisterial sources – then perhaps you might be willing to share it here. Otherwise, this seems to be a debate between magisterium and commentator, which, of course, seems that it should be (at the very least) heavily weighted in favor of magisterium. :shrug:

You do not seem to understand that “direct abortions” means intended abortions in Catholic moral theology. Please note, and this is most important and discussed by Fr Serpa, that it discussed “deliberate” (ie intended) abortions:

As is known, abortion is “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth”.[45] Therefore, the use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral. Furthermore, when there is certainty that an abortion has resulted, there are serious penalties in canon law.[46]

Again, it is not relevant to unintended miscarriage as a secondary effect.

It is only your misreading of DP here, as addressed above and by Fr Serpa. The magisterium does not condemn married couples having sex even if unintended miscarriages are a likely consequence. Only intended/deliberate abortions are a moral evil.

Would you say that a woman who has a deficient luteal phase (and thus unable to sustain a pregnancy) has a moral obligation to abstain from sex?

Also from Dignitatis Personae:

anyone who seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo which may possibly have been conceived and who therefore either requests or prescribes such a pharmaceutical, generally intends abortion

A woman taking the pill for medical purposes is not one who “seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo”. Such an effect is unintended. You alluded to this yourself in discussing double effect.

Actually, that’s not what “direct abortion” means, although I appreciate that you think that I don’t understand Catholic moral theology. Do you recall the case of the abortion at St Joseph’s in Phoenix in 2009? In that case, no one ‘intended’ an abortion, according to the ethics committee at the hospital. Yet, the local ordinary decided that it was a “direct abortion.” As it turns out, “direct abortion” speaks to action, regardless of the stated intent of the parties involved.

Please note, and this is most important and discussed by Fr Serpa, that it discussed “deliberate” (ie intended) abortions:

[quote]As is known, abortion is “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth”.[45]

[/quote]

It’s ironic that you’re quoting Evangelium Vitae (after all, that’s what footnote 45 is alluding to). Perhaps you might consider reading what paragraph 58 of that encyclical says, considering that footnote 45 is quoting this paragraph:

It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health

So, JP II speaks of the definition of abortion; yet, he does not allow for abortion even for “certain important values such as [the mother’s] own health.” :shrug:

Again, it is not relevant to unintended miscarriage as a secondary effect.

If DP had said that intention or secondary effect were relevant, I’d buy your argument. It doesn’t. It makes a flat assertion: interception is abortive and gravely sinful. If you want to read into that an exception for intention, that says many things. Of course… it doesn’t say that this is what the CDF was stating. :wink:

It is only your misreading of DP here, as addressed above and by Fr Serpa.

LOL! Really, now… is that what you want to assert? I’ll give you a chance to reconsider that claim… :wink:

If you’re still convinced that they were interpreting DP, then please allow me to gently point out to you that both Fr Serpa’s and Michelle’s comments – which you attempt to use to prove your point – precede the publication of Dignitatis Personae! Are you really trying to convince us that their comments interpret a document that hadn’t yet been written? That would be quite the feat… :wink:

Only intended/deliberate abortions are a moral evil.

No. All abortions are an intrinsic evil. If you want to discuss culpability, then that’s a different discussion. But, if you want to talk about objective evil, you cannot claim that abortion is sometimes objectively ok…

Would you say that a woman who has a deficient luteal phase (and thus unable to sustain a pregnancy) has a moral obligation to abstain from sex?

Apples and oranges. The physical lack of ability to sustain a pregnancy is not at all the same case as the choice to undertake a course of therapy that leads to abortifacient effects. :wink:

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