WASHINGTON — At a time when many in the pro-life movement have been looking for ways to offer more resources to women, some pro-life lawmakers have gotten behind the Biden administration’s move to expand access to contraception over the counter without a prescription.
However, Catholic pro-life advocates, who staunchly support the Church’s teaching that contraception use is intrinsically evil, are warning against expanded access to contraception. They point both to the ways in which abortion and contraception use are connected and to potential harmful side effects for women.
Last month, when the Biden administration’s Food and Drug Administration announced the approval of “Opill,” the first nonprescription oral contraceptive, a group of pro-life female lawmakers, led by Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, introduced a bill requiring the FDA to “send guidance to manufacturers on how to submit successful over-the-counter applications for oral contraceptives.” Miller-Meeks said when announcing the bill that it was an effort to “streamline the process for accessing over-the-counter contraceptives,” recognizing “the need for increased and consistent access to contraceptives.”
Miller-Meeks, a Catholic, did not respond to the Register’s request for comment regarding her bill and the Catholic Church’s teachings against the use of contraception.
Other pro-life lawmakers have also voiced support for increased access to contraceptives since the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. In April, GOP presidential contender and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in a pro-life policy speech that pro-lifers “should be able to agree that contraception should be more available, not less.”
This comment sparked criticism from some Catholic pro-life leaders, including Lila Rose of Live Action, who commented that contraception “does *not* decrease abortion” and “creates a culture where abortion is the back-up plan.” Rose cited a study from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, which found that, “in 2014, about half (51%) of abortion patients in the United States reported that they had used a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant.”
Similarly, the pro-abortion British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) found in 2017 that most of the women having abortions at its clinics (51.2%) had been using at least one form of contraception, and a quarter (24.2%) had used methods considered “most effective.” Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, commented at the time that “our data shows women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone, even when they are using some of the most effective methods. Family planning is contraception and abortion.”
The Contraceptive Mentality
Melissa Moschella, an associate professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America, conducted research that focuses on biomedical ethics and the family. She told the Register that while she believed pro-life lawmakers may be well-intentioned in their push to expand contraceptive access, women already “have extremely easy access to contraception,” and there is no “evidence that widespread access to contraception actually reduces abortion rates.”
She said that while “it seems like if you give people access to contraception, they’ll end up having fewer unplanned pregnancies and then there will be fewer abortions,” the result is that “where contraception becomes the norm, people stop seeing sex as an activity that leads to children so they start to have an expectation that they can engage in sexual activity without worrying about consequences.” And since no contraceptive method is 100% effective, “what happens is that they then end up actually being more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy in the long run.”
In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope St. John Paul II wrote that contraception and abortion are “fruits of the same tree.” In many instances, he instructed, “such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.”
Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, told the Register that “the more that we make contraception available, the more we see an increase in abortion.”
“We’re not asking the right questions: Is this truly health care? Is this good for women? What are the actual risks involved? How has this impacted family life?” he said.
Damaging Effects on Women
Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, was one of the co-signers, alongside representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Medical Association, of a letter to the FDA in November opposing approval of the Opill without a prescription, due to its numerous potential side effects that include organ failure, cardiovascular disease, ovarian cysts and depression. The signatories also pointed out that “the failure rate of the minipill is higher than that of other hormonal contraceptive methods and will result in many unintended pregnancies, leading to potentially more abortions. In addition, the minipill will not protect the patient from sexually transmitted infections.”
Meaney told the Register that “the physical consequences of taking the pill are very significant, and there’s a reason why it was put down as a prescription-only drug — because there are so many negative side effects. Many people shouldn’t be taking it for different health-based reasons, and the act of taking some of these pills off the restricted prescription-only side is sending a really bad message.”
Oral contraception can have other adverse consequences. Moral theologian Pia de Solenni told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly last week that beyond the fact that it does not reduce abortion rates, “on a practical level, let’s talk about the fact that most women don’t feel good when they’re taking hormonal birth control.” She highlighted studies that have even shown that women’s attractions change when they’re on birth control.
De Solenni recently wrote in America magazine about a number of secular women who are questioning the effect hormonal contraceptives have on their bodies, saying that “article after article acknowledges that women report a variety of adverse events, including depression.”
Concerns About Abortifacient Effect
John Grabowski, a professor of moral theology at The Catholic University of America, told the Register that another concern for pro-lifers with contraception is that “the line between contraception and abortion is incredibly blurry.”
“Some things that are marketed and touted as contraceptives are not contraceptive at all,” he said, and instead act as abortifacients — ending a newly conceived human life.
He pointed out that some forms of the IUD “don’t prevent conception from occurring; they prevent implantation of a human embryo in the lining of a woman’s uterus from occurring,” which is abortifacient, not contraceptive, and some oral contraceptives can also cause early abortions because they contribute to “the thinning of a woman’s uterine lining, which, if a breakthrough pregnancy occurs, can result in an abortion.”
Kristan Hawkins, a Catholic who heads Students for Life of America, co-wrote an op-ed earlier this month with Tina Whittington, executive vice president of Students for Life of America and a Protestant, in which they noted that their “views on birth control don’t impact our conviction that protecting new life is important, including expressing our opposition to drugs and devices that have the potential to harm new life.”
They cited a New York Times article noting “that one of The Pill’s creators, Harvard fertility expert Dr. John Rock, a self-proclaimed Catholic, ‘was stretching the truth’ about how the pill functioned, reporting, ‘Rock knew that the pill’s synthetic hormones caused the lining of a woman’s uterus to thin out, making it inhospitable for a fertilized egg.’”
Communicating the Church’s View
In his apostolic exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II wrote that “the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.”
Grabowski called this language “a bodily recollection of what the couple promised to each other in their wedding vows”: to “give themselves completely without reservation to each other in fidelity for the whole of their lives.” He said that by negating a person’s fertility, which “belongs to the very depths of who we are as a person,” we’re “actually rejecting the other as a person in contraceptive sex. We’re not loving the other as a person; we’re using them as an outlet for pleasure.”
He also referenced Pope St. Paul VI’s predictions in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that contraceptive use “could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards” and that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
Grabowski said that when discussing the Church’s teaching on contraception with the wider culture, Catholics can point to the negative consequences that, as Paul VI predicted, have come out of the sexual revolution that coincided with the advent of the pill.
“It has resulted in skyrocketing rates of divorce, unhappy men, women and children, and all the devastation that broken families brings,” he said. “It has resulted in skyrocketing abortion rates, skyrocketing rates of pregnancy outside of marriage.”