Carson Holloway

The costs of contraception

Carson Holloway
By Carson Holloway
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Coauthored with John Safranek

April 20, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - A great deal of public discussion has been sparked by the recent determination of the Department of Health and Human Services that it would, under the legal authority of the new health care law, require health insurance plans to cover the costs of hormonal contraception. Much of that discussion has focused on the nature and importance of religious freedom, since the directives would require some institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, to provide health insurance coverage for things that are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. To a lesser extent, the HHS regulations have provoked some renewed discussion—at least among Catholics, but perhaps more generally among religious conservatives—about the morality of contraception itself, a topic that had seemed closed as a topic of genuine inquiry for the last generation.

The HHS directives should also give rise to another discussion, one that so far has not been undertaken: a discussion not of the legality of the mandates, nor of the morality of contraception, but of the physical costs of contraception, of the negative consequences it may have for the health and well-being of the women who use it. This aspect of the question has been all but totally ignored. For their part, the liberal partisans of the HHS mandates speak as if hormonal contraception is simply an unmitigated good, a clean gain, for women. Indeed, their argument suggests that such contraception is so unequivocally good that there can be no reasonable argument about the propriety of mandating its coverage as a health care benefit.

This assumption deserves to be challenged because it is untrue. That is, hormonal contraception carries certain physical costs in addition to the benefits touted by its proponents. Unless these costs are frankly acknowledged, American women will be in no position to make an informed choice about whether or not to use contraception. Yet presumably Americans of all ideological persuasions could agree that women should be in a position to choose or reject contraception based upon full knowledge of its potential physical consequences.

The popular view of contraception as an unmitigated good is based upon a naïve understanding of science’s ability to intervene in natural processes. Modern people are understandably impressed by science’s ability to manipulate nature, to divert it to courses more acceptable (or apparently more acceptable) to human well-being than it would take if left to itself. We are often more impressed, however, than would be justified on closer examination. It is, after all, impossible to interject technological control into any natural system without incurring some undesirable consequences. Liberals understand this very well when the issue is non-human natural systems—the “environment.” They can easily tell you the problems that are caused by cutting down trees, mining coal, or burning oil.

But a woman’s body is a natural system like any other. It is devised by nature—for a portion of the woman’s lifespan—to be capable of becoming pregnant, to be fertile. Medical science cannot simply turn that fertility on and off like a light switch. It is rather to be expected that suppression of fertility through the use of birth control pills will carry certain physical costs for the woman who does it. The evidence bears out this expectation. In discussing these consequences we divide them into two categories: health risks and costs to physical well-being.

The existing scientific literature suggests that the long-term use of birth control pills is associated with increased risk for certain serious, and potentially deadly, health problems. A 2009 Mayo Clinic study noted a doubling of the risk of breast cancer in women who had used birth control pills for more than eleven years. Similarly, another recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that longer duration of use of hormonal contraception, as well as earlier first age of use, increased risk of breast cancer. Specifically, the study found that women who started using birth control pills before age 18 were at 1.9 times the normal risk level for all forms of breast cancer, and that women 40 and younger were at a 4.2-fold increased risk of triple negative breast cancer, one of the worst forms, which accounts for between 10 and 17 percent of all breast cancer cases.

Some forms of hormonal birth control have also been associated with increased risk for blood clots. Yaz, which was for several years the top-selling birth control pill, was discovered to almost double the risk for blood clotting, which can be lethal. There were about ten deaths per year among Yaz users during the period from 2004 to 2008, although the actual number of fatalities may be higher. Finally, birth control pills are harmful for the cardiac health of women who suffer from atherosclerotic disease. Those who use birth control pills usually cannot know whether they are assuming this additional risk, since it is generally financially impractical to screen for atherosclerosis prior to the use of birth control.

While these problems are admittedly only risks and not certainties attending the use of birth control, it is also worth noting that they do not necessarily represent all of the risks involved. That is, birth control pills may in some cases be more perilous than we know. The aforementioned Yaz had been approved by the FDA and was in use for several years before its connection to blood clotting came to light. Similarly, the author of the aforementioned NIH study on birth control and breast cancer noted the “scarcity” of studies of this link, and hence the need for “further research” on it.

Birth control pills also tend to carry costs to physical well-being. Use of birth control pills is associated with an increased incidence of unpleasant things such as depression, mood swings, weight gain, impeded weight loss, headache, upper respiratory infection, sinusitis, nausea, menstrual cramps, acne, breast tenderness, vaginal candidiasis (commonly known as “yeast infection”), bacterial vaginitis, and urinary tract infection. Although normally not life-threatening, such physical ailments are certainly not insignificant to those who suffer them.

Moreover, they are especially noteworthy to the extent that they bear negatively upon the supposed benefit of contraception: sexual freedom. Sometimes the proponents of contraception present it as preventing pregnancy, but anyone with elementary knowledge of biology knows that pregnancy can be prevented even more reliably by refraining from sexual intercourse. Contraception’s real benefit, then, at least as its advocates see it, is sexual freedom, the ability to enjoy sex without unwanted consequences. The side effects mentioned above, however, put a serious dent in the argument for this benefit. Obviously, a woman suffering from some or even one of the physically unpleasant consequences of birth control will not be able to enjoy sexual activity as much as she otherwise might. This is especially evident in the case of several of the ailments noted above, the ones (such as vaginitis, urinary tract infection, and vaginal candidiasis) that involve vaginal discomfort.

Indeed, one commonly found side-effect of hormonal birth control is a decrease in libido or sexual desire. Whether this arises independently or is itself caused by some of the other disorders and discomforts noted above is immaterial to the basic fact that contraception, which is promoted as a means to sexual happiness, can in fact diminish a woman’s sexual happiness. The promise of contraception is that women will be able to have sex whenever they want to, but a closer look reveals that it might well make you not want to very much. Put another way, its claim to be a pure benefit is compromised to the extent that it diminishes the enjoyment of that which it puts within such easy reach. Access to more apples is not a pure gain if a larger percentage of the apples are spoiled and taste bad.

We do not claim that these risky and unpleasant side-effects render contraception immoral. The morality of contraception depends on philosophic arguments we are not making here. Nor do we claim that the bad side-effects are so severe as to justify a ban on contraception on public health grounds. We merely hold that these side-effects are often ignored in our public discourse, but that a truly free decision of women to use or not use them—as well as a truly free decision of voters whether to use government to promote them—depends on a frank acknowledgement of their costs along with their alleged benefits.

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press). John Safranek, MD, is a medical doctor practicing in Nebraska. He also holds a PhD in philosophy from the Catholic University of America, and his writings have appeared in the Hastings Center Report, the Texas Review of Law and Politics, and the University of Colorado Law Review. This article first appeared at thePublicDiscourse.com and is reprinted with permission.

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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Lisa Bourne

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

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"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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