Here’s something guaranteed to garner some heated debate.
In discussions about contraception, it often gets brought up that birth control pills are used, not just for preventing pregnancy, but for treating other, non-contraceptive medical diseases and conditions. Not only are they being used for this reason, but, we’re told that they are necessary for treating various complications related to a woman’s reproductive cycle. We’ve been hearing this a LOT lately throughout the debate over the HHS contraception mandate, most notably during the now infamous Sandra Fluke testimony, during which she mentioned a friend who used the pill to prevent or reduce the formation of ovarian cysts.
It should be noted from the outset that the Catholic Church is not opposed to women using contraceptive pills for actual medical needs — but are they necessary for this? That’s my question. And are Catholics wrong or insensitive for suggesting they may not be?
Over at Catholic Lane, Catholic author Amy Bonaccorso recently spoke out as an example of a faithful Catholic who once ‘needed’ the pill for medical reasons. Diagnosed with Poly-Cystic-Ovarian-Syndrome (PCOS) and nearly crippled by the pain that comes with it, Bonaccorso used the birth control pill to deal with her symptoms.
The main focus of her article is about how, after becoming Catholic, she felt like an outcast and even guilty for being sick during discussions with fellow Catholics about contraception. She was even, she says, “ripped into” by her Catholic GYN when, after getting married, Amy did not want to immediately go off the pill and start having kids because they did not think they could cope with the possible illness that could strike.
Women with PCOS have escalated health risks from the get go. So, when I read about the negative health impacts of the Pill on women’s health, I can honestly tell you that I don’t care. It was a God-send to me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve outgrown many of the problems I endured as a younger woman. But, I wonder if the Pill didn’t have some role in teaching my body how to function better.
Of course, every woman’s experience is different. Be sure to also check out Jacqueline Harvey’s testimony about being repeatedly pushed the pill to ‘treat’ her endometriosis – a pill that she once did take as a teenager, but, while it relieved some of the pain, it also caused many other problems that were just as hard to live with.
Going back to Bonaccorso’s article. I don’t deny that she got some relief from taking the pill and I certainly think it is a shame that she has personally been judged and treated unfairly by some fellow Catholics, but here is my problem. She writes (emphasis in original):
While I support the Church’s fight against HHS’s unconstitutional restrictions on their ability to practice their faith and obey their conscience, I think it’s obnoxious how Catholics routinely ignore the suffering in their own ranks and treat the sick as insignificant and inconvenient nuisances to their theology.
Until Catholics get serious about addressing the suffering of women with PCOS and other associated illnesses, young women will get stuck having to take the Pill because there is no other option for them. We need to push for medical advances and start treating sick women with more respect if we want our theological positions on contraception to influence anyone other than the “uber-Catholics” and hyper-pious.
Perhaps she is not fully aware of this, but the fact is that many faithful Catholics, who care deeply about the ‘suffering in their own ranks’ and beyond, HAVE gotten very serious about addressing this kind of thing. In fact, they have even developed medicine to treat diseases just like the one she suffers from so that women do not ‘need’ to resort to using contraception to mask their symptoms. The Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction exists solely for this purpose and, currently, PCOS and other ovarian problems can be treated with NaProTechnology, which Dr. Paul Carpentier, certified by the American Academy of FertilityCare Professionals, explains very well in this video.
Without question, Catholics need to be charitable to women suffering with symptoms alleviated by the pill. But, I don’t think that means that it’s wrong to suggest that the pill is not a necessary answer to many of these non-contraceptive medical problems – even if the Church does say that technically its ok to be used in these circumstances. Other, highly effective treatments exist, unfortunately the pill is the only option many women are given.
What has your experience been? Both Bonaccorso and Harvey have commentors on their posts who say they can relate to each of their experiences. If you’ve used the pill, do you think, as Bonoccorso does, that it actually helped take care of your condition or, did it just mask your symptoms, as it did for Harvey? What about finding alternative treatment? Both Bonaccorso and Harvey noted how difficult it was for them to find something else that would work for them. Is NaProTechnology not for everyone? Or is the problem that it’s just still not widely known about and practiced?
I think this is a discussion worth having!