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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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signs the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Indiana faces backlash as it becomes 20th state to protect religious liberty

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By Ben Johnson

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Thursday, Indiana became the 20th state to prevent the government from forcing people of faith to violate their religious beliefs in business or the public square.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101) into law, saying the freedom of religion is a preeminent American value.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.

Gov. Pence, a possible dark horse candidate for president in 2016, cited court cases brought by religious organizations and employers, including Catholic universities, against the HHS mandate. “One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.”

The new law could also prevent Christian business owners from being compelled to bake a cake or take photographs of a same-sex "marriage" ceremony, if doing so violates their faith. In recent years, business owners have seen an increased level of prosecution for denying such services, despite their religious and moral beliefs.

The state's pro-life organization applauded Pence for his stance. "Indiana's pro-life community is grateful to Gov. Mike Pence for signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law,” said Indiana Right to Life's president and CEO Mike Fichter. “This bill will give pro-lifers a necessary legal recourse if they are pressured to support abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

“RFRA is an important bill to protect the religious freedom of Hoosiers who believe the right to life comes from God, not government,” he said.

The state RFRA is based on the federal bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The Supreme Court cited the federal law when it ruled that Hobby Lobby had the right to refuse to fund abortion-inducing drugs, if doing so violated its owners' sincerely held religious beliefs.

In signing the measure – similar to the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed – Pence and the state of Indiana have faced a torrent of venom from opponents of the bill, who claim it grants a “right to discriminate” and raises the spectre of segregation.

"They've basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it's OK to discriminate against people," said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual pressure group.

The Disciples of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination based in the state capital, has said it will move its 2017 annual convention if the RFRA became state law. The NCAA warned the bill's adoption “might affect future events” in the Hoosier state.

Pence denied such concerns, saying, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way I would've vetoed it."

The bill's supporters say that, under the Obama administration, it is Christians who are most likely to suffer discrimination.

"Originally RFRA laws were intended to protect small religious groups from undue burdens on practicing their faith in public life,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “It was not imagined there would come a day when laws might seek to jail or financially destroy nuns, rabbis or Christian camp counselors who prefer to abstain from the next wave of sexual and gender experimentation. And there's always a next wave.”

The bill's supporters note that it does not end the government's right to coerce people of faith into violating their conscience in every situation. However, it requires that doing so has to serve a compelling government interest and the government must use the least restrictive means possible. “There will be times when a state or federal government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression – to ensure public safety, for instance,” said Sarah Torre, an expert at the Heritage Foundation. “But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom.”

Restricting the ability of government to interfere in people's private decisions, especially their religious decisions, is the very purpose of the Constitution, its supporters say.

"Religious freedom is the cornerstone of all liberty for all people,” Tooley said. “Deny or reduce it, and there are no ultimate limits on the state's power to coerce."

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Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting.
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Porn is transforming our men from protectors into predators. Fight back.

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By Jonathon van Maren

Since I’ve gotten involved in anti-pornography work, I’ve met countless men who struggle, fight, or have beaten pornography. Each person seems to deal with the guilt and shame that accompanies porn use in a different way—some deny that it’s “all that bad,” others pretend that they could “stop whenever they want,” many insist that “everyone is doing it,” and most, when pressed, admit to a deep sense of self-loathing.

One worry surfaces often in conversation: What do my past or current struggles with pornography say about me as a man? Can I ever move past this and have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship?

I want to address this question just briefly, since I’ve encountered it so many times.

First, however, I’ve written before how I at times dislike the language of “struggling” with pornography or pornography “addiction,” not because they aren’t accurate but because too often they are used as an excuse rather than an explanation. It is true, many do in fact “struggle” with what can legitimately be considered an addiction, but when this language is used to describe an interminable battle with no end (and I’ve met dozens of men for whom this is the case), then I prefer we use terminology like “fighting my porn habit.” A semantic debate, certainly, but one I think is important. We need to stop struggling with porn and start fighting it.

Secondly, pornography does do devastating things to one’s sense of masculinity. We know this. Pornography enslaves men by the millions, perverting their role as protector and defender of the more vulnerable and turning them into sexual cannibals, consuming those they see on-screen to satisfy their sexual appetites.

What often starts as mere curiosity or an accidental encounter can turn into something that invades the mind and twists even the most basic attractions. I’ve met porn users who can’t believe the types of things they want to watch. They haven’t simply been using porn. Porn has actively reshaped them into something they don’t recognize and don’t like. 

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Porn is this generation’s great assault on masculinity and the role of men in society. It is essential that we win this battle for the sake of society’s survival. Contrary to what the gender-bending and family-morphing progressive elites claim, good husbands and good fathers and good church leaders are necessary for a healthy society. But pornography is destroying marriages, creating distant and disconnected fathers, and, metaphoricaclly castrating men, hindering their ability and desire to make a positive difference in the society around us.

So, with this sobering set of facts in mind let’s return to the question: what do pornography struggles, past and present, say about a man?

The proper way to respond is with everything that is good about masculinity. We have to fight pornography as men have fought countless evils throughout the ages. We need to fight pornography to protect women, and wives, and children, and our society at large. This is how pornography threatens society, by castrating men, and turning them from protectors into predators. Rooting out the evil in our own lives allows us to better fulfill the role we are called to perform in the lives of others. Battling our own demons enables us to battle the wider cultural demons. Every day without porn is another bit of virtue built. Virtue is not something you’re born with. Virtues are habits that you build. And one day without porn is the first step towards the virtue of being porn-free.

Many men ask me if men who have had past porn addictions are cut out for being in a relationship or working in the pro-life movement or in other areas where we are called to protect and defend the weak and vulnerable. And the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. Our society needs men who know what it means to fight battles and win. Our society needs men who can say that they fought porn and they beat porn, because their families and their friends were too important to risk. Our society needs men who rose to the challenge that the evils of their generation threw at them, and became better men as the result. And our society needs men who can help their friends and their sons and those around them fight the plague of pornography and free themselves from it, too—and who can understand better and offer encouragement more relevant than someone who has fought and been freed themselves?

So the answer to men is yes. Fight pornography. Beat pornography. And join the ranks of those who support their fellow men and women still fighting. Lend them support and encouragement. We cannot change the fact that porn has left an enormous path of destruction in its wake. But we can change the fact that too many people aren’t fighting it. We can change our own involvement. And we can rise to the challenge and face this threat to masculinity with all that is good about masculinity.

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Red Alert!

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By John-Henry Westen

I don’t like having to do this, but we have always found it best to be totally upfront with our readers: our Spring fundraising campaign is now worrying us! 

You see, with just 6 days remaining, we have only raised 30% of our goal, with $125,000 still left to raise. That is a long ways to go yet.

We have no choice but to reach our minimum goal of $175,000 if we are going to be able to continue serving the 5+ million readers who rely on us every month for investigative and groundbreaking news reports on life, faith and family issues.

Every year, LifeSite readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds. This year, we are again experiencing record-breaking interest, with over 6 million people visiting our website last month alone!

This unprecedented growth in turn creates its own demand for increased staff and resources, as we struggle to serve these millions of new readers.

And especially keep this in mind. As many more people read LifeSite, our mission of bringing about cultural change gets boosted. Our ultimate goal has always been to educate and activate the public to take well-informed, needed actions.

Another upside to our huge growth in readers is that it should be that much easier to reach our goal. To put it simply: if each person who read this one email donated whatever they could (even just $10) we would easily surpass our goal! 

Today, I hope you will join the many heroes who keep this ship afloat, and enable us to proclaim the truth through our reporting to tens of millions of people every year!

Your donations to LifeSite cause major things to happen! We see that every day and it is very exciting. Please join with us in making a cultural impact with a donation of ANY AMOUNT right now. 

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