In the much talked about contraception mandate recently promulgated by the Obama administration, I have read and heard some very good discussions on matters of religious freedom and rights of conscience. I agree that the trampling upon religion freedom and rights of conscience are indeed egregious violations against the founding principles of the United States. However, in response to some of the more popular and seemingly convincing arguments in favor of the mandate, I’d like to offer a rebuttal grounded first in scientific evidence and further developed in rational thought. To do so, we need to dig a little deeper into the issue within the issue. Although the groundswell of support for the Catholic Church’s position seems to be in the context of religious freedom from government oppression, I find it quite noteworthy that the proponents are by and large ignoring this point and appealing directly to the supposed good of contraception: as essential health care for women because it has now been exalted to that noble distinction of “preventative medicine”. If this is true, why would anyone’s conscience oppose it? Very well then, let’s talk about contraception and how it relates to a woman’s health.
Let’s first preface all that follows with an important clarification: faithful Catholics have no objection to the use of birth control pills in the situations where they might be a legitimate short-term treatment for an actual medical problem. The Church’s most well-known teaching document on the subject of contraception (Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI) makes this point very clear. Sadly, the false charge that we would refuse to allow the use of birth control pills for legitimate medical indications seems to be gaining undeserved credibility.
Contraception itself, however, is neither essential nor is it legitimate health care for women. Preventative, however, it is indeed–although not in the since typically thought. Birth control pills, in particular, are quite effective at preventing women from receiving good health care. Rather than preventing disease or treating any disease, it is frequently used in a manner to merely delay or ignore the actual gynecological problems a woman has. I’ve cared for far too many women whose illness has gone untreated for decades while her doctors simply strung her along on a series of birth control prescriptions without ever bothering to treat her actual pathology. To add insult to injury, peer-reviewed research has repeatedly shown a strong association of hormonal contraception with breast cancer among other cancers and life-threatening illnesses (for example, see Kahlenborn et al. Oral contraceptive use as a risk factor for premenopausal breast cancer: a meta-analysis. Mayo Clin Proc 2006; 81(10):1290-1302). Similarly, mounting medical evidence of hormonal contraception’s association with life-threatening blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks has triggered a new wave of class action lawsuits against various formulations of the “pill.” Although such well-documented health risks should be reason enough for any secularist to give second thought to the ubiquitous distribution of such powerful chemical agents designed to manipulate a woman’s reproductive system, they are not the only reason faithful Catholics (among others) refuse to participate in such assaults against women.
These peculiar people of conscience develop such convictions firstly on that most logical principle (that need not be religiously based at all) wherein a woman’s cyclic fertility is considered a healthy state of being. On the contrary, it is infertility that is considered the diseased state. What fanatical and religious nonsense, right? We so-called “religious nuts” also believe that women’s bodily integrity and personal dignity are best protected by an attitude of respecting a woman’s naturally occurring cycles of fertility, rather than alter such processes with carcinogenic toxins. Even more astounding, we actually consider the conception of new life and the propagation of the human race a good thing. What could be more intolerable? Perhaps an edict should be enforced to prevent such madness.