The Pill, 50 Years Later

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the birth control Pill, it”s eminently reasonable to assess its effect on our culture. In the following article, Fr. Matthew Habiger, O.S.B. of NFP Outreach calls into question the qualifications and neutrality of the Pill”s proponents. Even more, Fr. Habiger points out some of the ways the Pill has harmed today”s men and women.

For those wishing to learn more about the Church”s teaching on birth control and natural family planning (NFP), My Catholic Faith Delivered has an outstanding four-lesson online course entitled “Celebrating Humanae Vitae.” The course was produced by Catholic Scripture Study, with dynamic video segments by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

Here”s Fr. Habiger”s fine article: [more]

Some praise it to the heavens

Much of the literature extolling the merits of the Pill comes from the pharmaceutical companies and Planned Parenthood. That is very strange. They are the ones who stand most to benefit from this multi-billion dollar industry. They have a conflict of interest and cannot speak without a prejudicial bias. Why would anyone look to them for an unbiased assessment of the merits, or demerits, of the Pill? 

Would anyone give their unquestioned acceptance to the tobacco industry when they extol the merits of smoking? Should we not be suspicious of any study or paper that the tobacco industry produces to convince us that the latest brand of cigarette is a great gift to humanity? No matter how much money the tobacco industry has to funnel into publicity, and no matter how many times we hear or see their advertisements, the hard reality of all the medical damage that smoking causes to smokers does not change.

Why would anyone in their right mind not have reservations–and suspicions–about groups whose livelihood depends upon the sales of the Pill and other contraceptives? Should we not look to independent, disinterested, and non-profiting groups to provide us with a reliable assessment of the Pill? [more]

The pharmaceutical companies and Planned Parenthood sing the praises of the Pill to the heavens. Why? Because it is a great cash cow for them. Contraceptives are a multi-billion dollar industry.

But is every technological advancement a true sign of progress? Was the discovery and use of the machine gun and mustard gas during World War I a true sign of progress? If we have new forms of technology, does that mean we must use them? We have the hydrogen bomb. Should we ever use it? We can clone animals.  Should we ever clone human persons?

Now we can suppress, or destroy, our fertility. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, a blessing or a curse?

So-called advantages of the Pill

  • The Pill separates fertility from sex so that one can pursue sexual pleasure without the responsibility of a pregnancy.
  • The Pill makes it possible for a man or woman to have sex anytime, with anyone, and not get pregnant.
  • It allows a woman to pursue a career, have sex, and not to be bothered with a baby or a family. She is just like a man. But is that an advantage?
  • It makes life easy for men. Now they can have all the sex they want, and have no responsibility for a baby that they would otherwise be begetting. So why get married? Many men now postpone marriage, or never marry. When they reach old age, who will take care of them, or be interested in them?

The Pill has been prescribed for many things. It is like a panacea. Some doctors prescribe it for acne, irregular cycles (which does not address the real underlying problems), and, of course, as a contraceptive for young girls who are already having sex. Some doctors want young girls to start taking the Pill as soon as they begin to have their cycles, “just in case.”

A balanced assessment

Sterilized sex is not the unqualified good suggested by Planned Parenthood and its cohorts.  There are many, many harms and damages that result when we turn against our fertility.

Our fertility is a blessing, not a curse.  When God designed us as bodied persons, male or female, He made us to be both fertile and sexual. He wants us to “be fertile and multiply,” to marry and have a family, to share life with the next generation.

Sex was designed by God to be both love-giving and life-giving. Pleasure sought only for its own sake is called hedonism. This is a weakness, not a virtue; a lack of character, not a builder of character. God designed sex to be expressed between a man and a woman, who are totally committed to each other. Sex belongs in marriage. Only there does it express and accomplish what it was meant to express and accomplish. Contraception interferes with all this.  How?

The spousal act means that a spouse makes the total personal gift of self, of the man or woman, to the other. This total personal gift of self includes the heart, body, mind, soul, and will: the total person. And this includes their fertility. There are no conditions, no reservations, and nothing held back.

The Pill (contraception in general) and sterilized sex go together. It is repugnant to God and degrading to those who engage in it. Spousal love was meant to be the great symbol of total self-surrender between a husband and wife. But with the Pill, all this is reduced to recreational sex. Sterilized sex is unnatural.  It has brought great harm to our bodies, to our marriages, to our families, to our national life, and even to our natural environment. It is a major reason for the shortage today of priests and religious.

Dr. Rebecca Becks, M.D., is a married woman, with 5 children. Recently she wrote: “Why was the Pill first introduced by Dr. John Rock back in 1960? Wasn’t it to help women make their lives a little easier? Wasn’t it to strengthen marriage? Wasn’t it to make abortion a rare occurrence? And wasn’t it to improve society in general? And now, 50 years later, have those objectives been achieved? NO, on all counts.

“Birth control pills can cause serious medical problems. This category of pills has been shown to cause: death, pulmonary embolus, blood clots, stroke, migraines, increased rates of cervical cancer, increased sexual transmitted diseases (including HPV, Herpes and HIV), and prolonged infertility, including a whole host of minor symptoms which can become severe, such as depression.

“I stopped prescribing the Pill three years ago in part, because I couldn’t stand to see one more stroke victim, one more STD, one more cervical or breast cancer case, or one more “backup abortion” for failed contraceptives.  The main reason, though, that I stopped prescribing and using birth control, was because I understood through my Catholic faith, Humanae Vitae and the Theology of the Body, that birth control is bad for women because it is against God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage.”

The Pill destroys real love. Real love is creative and fertile. It is also demanding: it demands patience, kindness, and “endures all things.” Only this kind of love can become the firm foundation of a strong marriage and a happy family. It is a foundation to “endure all things.”

Radical feminism and believers in women’s liberation praise the Pill for a new found freedom. But this is a false freedom, a freedom without responsibility. You can have sex and you don’t have to have a baby. Then you can climb the corporate ladder without encumbrance. If you get pregnant, you can have a backup abortion.  But this is utilitarianism, the very opposite of love. It is using people as things for happiness. This concept of freedom when embraced by an entire society becomes a permanent threat to the family.

After 50 years of birth control we find these results. (1)  Marriages are crumbling instead of being strengthened, as the Pill proponents promised. (2) The race for women’s liberation, for freedom and control over their bodies, has made casualties of the unborn, and of children who get a single mother exhausted by work and overwhelmed by the burdens of raising a child alone.

Here is the paradox of the Pill. It was thought that the Pill would make abortions rare. The reality is that they have increased exponentially. The Pill was introduced to strengthen marriage. But the reality is that half of all contracepting couples get divorced. People thought that the Pill would strengthen the American family. The reality is that the family is slowly being demolished.

What we need to do

We need to wake up and call the Pill what it really is: the destroyer of love, of marriages, and of families.

Pope John Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae #58: “Today we need to look the truth in the eye and call things by their proper name, without resorting to compromises or yielding to the temptation of self-deception.”

Our marriages and family life are falling apart. Consider these undeniable facts:

 50% divorce rate
 40% of children today are born to unmarried mothers
 There were 90 million unmarried and single Americans in 2005.  This group comprises 41% of all U.S. residents age 18 and older.
 10.5 million single moms
 5 million unmarried-households in 2005 
 One out of four pregnancies are surgically aborted and there are many, many more early-on, chemical abortions.

Think of all the harm and pain that these factors bring to marriages, to any sense of permanent commitments, to spouses, to their children and their families. A nation is only as strong as its family life. Take a good look at our marriages and family life today. On the 50th anniversary of the Pill, we need to look at contraception again, and objectively assess what it has done to our lives, to our marriages, and to our families. 

We need to go on the offensive, as well as go on the defensive. On the defense, we point to the irrefutable harms that the Pill and contraception have brought us. On the offense, we point to the beautiful plan that God has for marriage, spousal love and the family. This plan is completely doable if both spouses avail themselves of all the aids and helps that God provides for them. Natural Family Planning encapsulates this plan, and makes is possible for a married couple to space their pregnancies responsibly, while always treasuring the gift of the child.

I recommend that people visit our website, www.nfpoutreach.org, and discover the wealth of materials there that explain the harms of contraception and the benefits of NFP and God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family.  Click on “NFP Q&A,” and you will find 120 of my columns which explain the many aspects of contraception and NFP. They are free and copy ready. Use them as you wish. They make good newspaper columns, parish bulletin inserts, and radio commentary.  At NFP Outreach we help you find the materials you need to be an active player on the field in the game of advancing the culture of life while exposing and resisting the culture of death. Consider also having an NFP Parish Mission at your parish. Call us at 405-942-4084.

5 Responses to “The Pill, 50 Years Later”

  1. petebrown says:

    OK Father nice article, though I don”t know how convincing it would be to one not already convinced.

    First the 50% figure for divorces which you state several times is generally regarded to be false, as a simple google search on the relevant literature would have indicated. Sociologists realize that tracking divorce is a very difficult thing since it”s hard to do longitudinal studies on life long commitments–yet few defend the 50% mantra. In fact, it is true today that a woman married in 1992 is more likely to be married a generation later than a woman married in 1972. So in fact divorce seems to becoming less common–seemingly for many reasons (economic, cultural, age at marriage etc). Actually the divorce rate is much higher for low income people and for people previously married which tends to skew the stats.

    Also while it is true that abortions did increase after the pill became common, this increase stopped around 1980 and has been falling since. Abortion rates are now around their 1974 levels–too high to be sure but not exactly the picture you are painting. Also the abortion rate today is more like 1 in 5 which includes chemical abortions if by that one means morning after pills etc. You could find that by looking at Guttmacher or CDC stats online.

    So I think you can make a case that birth control pills have had an impact on marriage rates and abortions rates but I think your argument is more than a little overstated. It might be good then if you are going to make statistical claims that you cite the relevant data.

    I write as one sympathetic to your cause but as one who senses the need for natural law arguments to be grounded in empirical facts.

  2. leon says:

    Fr. Habiger sent me the following note to post in response to Pete Brown”s comment:

    I think that our concern should be more on understanding the underlying causes of divorce, and attempting to address them while building up strong marriages, rather than arguing about the exact percentage of divorces this year. It makes little difference whether we have a 48% or a 40% divorce rate today; we definitely have a real problem with the wide acceptance and prevalence of divorce. Contraception is a real part of the problem.

    Total numbers of marriages per year are down, despite a total population increase. Between 2004 and 2005 the nation grew by 2.9 million. Only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents – the lowest in the Western world.

    If you observe all of the positive marriage and family indicators, such as rates of
     first-time marrieds,
     children born to married mothers,
     children living with two parents,
     family size and overall fertility rate,
    all the trend lines have been moving in a negative direction over the past three decades.

    If you examine all of the negative family indicators, such as the trend towards
     never-married,
     divorce,
     cohabitation,
     children born to and living with unmarried mothers,
    all the trend lines are moving in an upward direction. This means that the bad news has been mounting slowly but steadily, and we are not alarmed.

    With regard to the Pill as an abortifacient, I recommend Victor Claveau’s BIRTH CONTROL AND ABORTIFACIENTS (available at http://www.evangelizationstation.com <http://www.evangelizationstation.com&gt; ) for extensive information and documentation. It is clear that the Pill, Depo-Provera, Norplant, and the IUD all have a predominantly “anti-implantation function.” They all prevent a fertilized ovum form being implanted in the uterine wall by a process of altering the wall itself. There is no way to trace all of these early-on chemical abortions, but they have the potential of exceeding the number of surgical abortions.

    The Vatican document, Statement on the So-called “Morning-after Pill,” stated: “It is clear, therefore, that the proven ‘anti-implantation’ action of the morning after pill is really nothing other than a chemically induced abortion. It is neither intellectually consistent nor scientifically justifiable to say that we are not dealing with the same thing.”

  3. The statistical data supporting Father Habiger”s contention concerning chemical abortions is very well documented by pharmaceutical manufacturers themselves in package inserts. These devices are believed to be responsible for an estimated minimum of five times more abortions than surgical procedures. Since the advent of “Roe v. Wade” in 1973, the current estimated total number of abortions from hormonal contraceptives and surgical procedures combined is over 300,000,000 … one for every American man, woman and child now alive. (Kumar et al.; “Infant Homicides through Contraceptives”; International Pharmacists for Life; 5th edition, 2003)

    Belief in God and His plan for marriage is the cement that keeps couples together in times of marital difficulties. The marital act is sacred, simply because God is involved. Denying God”s will by artificially contracepting (temporarily) or sterilization (permanently) destroys the unitive aspect of the act. True intimacy is sacrificed for self gratification and sexual intercourse becomes no different than two barnyard animals copulating. The marital act should be self-giving, not selfish. By pushing God aside, couples go it alone, and that is why so many marriages are doomed to failure.

  4. Pete writes: "Also the abortion rate today is more like 1 in 5 which includes chemical abortions if by that one means morning after pills etc. You could find that by looking at Guttmacher or CDC stats online."

    While Pete is correct in saying the number of surgical abortions has decreased in recent years, that is not the entire story. The Alan Gutmacher Institute division of Planned Parenthood reports that from the 1990 high of 1,608,600, surgical abortions decreased to 1,312,990 in 2000, and approximately 1,206,200 today. These figures do not take into account the incalculable number of chemical abortions caused by Oral Contraceptives, and abortifacient drugs such as RU 486 and Plan B.

    Neither AGI or CDC provide statistical estimates on the abortifacient nature of the Pill.

    A recognized study estimated that “OCs have a breakthrough ovulation rate of between 2 to 10%. Using these estimates”, Dr. Bogomir M. Kohar, calculated “a 2% ovulation rate yields 200,000 ovulatory cycles. It is also known that in any given cycle, there is a 25% overall conception rate for ‘normally fertile couples of average sexual activity.’ Multiplying the two yields a result of 50,000 chemical abortions per cycle or 600,000 per annum. A 10% rate yields 1,000,000 ovulatory cycles multiplied by the 25% conception rate for a resulting 250,000 chemical abortions per cycle or 3,000,000 per annum. Thus we have a range of 600,000 to 3 million chemical abortions per annum in the USA based on 1996 usage of OCs.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 31 % of women between the ages of 15 and 44 (11.7 million) use OCs as their primary method of birth control. Using these figures, it means that a woman using OCs has a between .05 and 25.6% chance of chemically aborting at least one child per year. Although this might seem to be a small percentage risk, over time the likelihood is great. Moreover, there really is no such thing as a ‘negligible’ risk of aborting a baby. In this case, any risk is too great.

    Neither does Planned Parenthood admit to or consider the number of birth defects caused by Oral Contraceptives. In the United States about 3% of babies or one of every 33 is born with a birth defect. Little research has been done to evaluate the birth control pill’s potential for causing birth defects. Most birth defects happen in the first 3 months of pregnancy, when the organs of the baby are forming; the most important stage of development. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also have very serious negative effects on a developing baby. Few manufacturers of birth control pills are willing to publicly recognize these dangers, and warn their consumers.

    Peel J and Potts M, Textbook and contraceptive technology, pp 98-90, (1964), Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
    Kippley, JF. The Pill and Early Abortion. ALL About Issues. 1989; 4:22-23/
    Kumar et al.; “Infant Homicides through Contraceptives”; International Pharmacists for Life; 5th edition, 2003, pp. 42-43.
    CDC National Center for Health Statistics, Press Release, Teens Delaying Sexual Activity; Using Contraception More Effectively, December 10, 2004.
    http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/bd/faq1.htm#chanceofBD

  5. petebrown says:

    Hi Leon:

    I”ll try to respond to this over more thoroughly over the weekend when I have time. Not sure how much I want to get into the whole pill/abortifacient issue though; I”m a great deal less convinced of this than they are but even conceding the effect exists (and the issue is very complex!) the primary documented effect of the pill is a contraceptive (both as ovulation inhibitor and in changing the cervical mucous) not an abortifacient. There”s 1) no reason to believe that the "abortifacient effect" is the primary result of taking the pill as they imply 2) nor that the "abortifacient effect" is actually growing over time 3) nor that unreported chemical abortions are replacing reported surgical abortions.

    The birth rate after all is generally stable while abortions have been declining. This has been the case since the early 70”s. In fact from 1997-2007 birth rates experienced a small but significant uptick and 2007 had in nominal terms the greatest number of live births ever in the US–though at a rate well below the height of the baby-boom in 1958-59. This is simply not consistent with relatively greater use of the birth control and correspondingly higher rates of" chemical abortions"–unless people are simply having alot more sex–and there is no reason to think that is the case.

    In fact, a preliminary look at the data suggests that more unmarried women are willing to give birth than before when similar situations a decade or two ago would have been more likely to result in abortion. This may well be why the rates of illegitimacy have risen as abortion rates have fallen. If this is correct, their criticism of illegitimacy should be alot more nuanced than it is. At any rate, my basic point is that the actual data simply does not fit into a simple narrative as these authors imply.

    So I remain unconvinced by many of the basic contentions presented here.

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