I am a family physician, who has provided care to women and their families, to include obstetrics and gynecology, for more than 20 years. Throughout my career, and after 23 years of marriage and four daughters, I have acquired the utmost respect for women, and have worked to protect the right of each woman, including my many patients as well as my wife and daughters, to make informed decisions about her body.
In light of the recent Health and Human Services mandate requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage and the Susan B Komen foundations decision to continue to fund Planned Parenthood, many in the media especially have been expressing their outrage at any person (Rick Santorum) or institution (the Catholic Church) that would dare object to universal access to contraceptive coverage.
Though Catholic, I did not always observe the teachings of the Catholic Church in my practice, particularly as related to women’s health care. As a biology teacher, I introduced a curriculum on contraception in a Catholic High School in New York in 1982. I taught other physicians how to prescribe the “ideal” oral contraceptive for each woman. Although my wife and I have successfully used and taught others natural methods of family planning (NFP), I was not ready to withhold oral contraceptive from my patients. However, as I began to introduce the option of NFP to women, I heard more and more women expressing their dissatisfaction with the side effects of artificial methods and their desire for a natural option for birth control.
At a women’s health conference in 2003, I asked the OB/Gyn from Columbia University why he did not address the fact that use of oral contraceptives increases the risk of cervical cancer, and he answered, “Let’s keep that to ourselves” which he then qualified by briefly reviewing the many “health benefits” of oral contraceptives – first of which, was of course, pregnancy prevention.
Therein lies the dirty little secret that has pervaded the field of women’s health care for more than 50 years that we physicians who provide care for women, working under the guidance of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control must do all we can to ensure that women of reproductive age embrace contraception regardless of the potentially dangerous side effects.
We present to women these options: Either get on the pill (or the shot, the patch, the IUD) or face the “disease” known as pregnancy and children. We tell women only of the many supposed “health benefits” of the pill while ignoring and/or covering up the many known increased risks of cancer (cervical and breast) and vascular disease (blood clots, stroke and heart disease) associated with long-term use of artificial contraceptives (not to mention he abortifacient action of several of these methods).
The Catholic Church has seemingly stood alone in its undaunted defense of the dignity of the individual person. While the government, the CDC and even ACOG have chosen to take paternalistic, utilitarian approaches to the care of women and their bodies, the church has actually defended the right of women to make their own informed decisions about their reproductive health.
While Planned Parenthood (funded in part by the government and also by Susan B. Komen foundation) continues on a daily basis to hide the facts about contraceptives from their customers, the church has tried to encourage women of all ages to try to live a life that is in keeping with the Natural Law, by teaching a “theology of the body” and not a theology that places the immediate sexual gratification of men ahead of the woman’s wellbeing. The Catholic Church asks women the question: are you truly willing to put your body at risk just so your male partner can find sexual pleasure? And the church asks married couples to consider a method of family planning that increases communication about sex and develops sexual self-control in both partners.
In 1968 in the face of growing acceptance of artificial contraception, one courageous, prescient man wrote the following: “it is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti0conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” These are the words of Pope Paul VI.
I daresay we in our great nation have come to see this loss of respect for women become a reality. I certainly see it each day in my practice of family medicine and women’s health care, not to mention the media. And I truly pray that our society will not fall prey to those who continue to embrace a culture of death for the sake of “the greater good.”
It is time for all of us who truly care for women to take off our blinders and speak the truth to all who will listen. It is time, we can all agree, to begin to respect all women, allow all women to learn all the facts about all methods of birth control, so as to make truly informed decisions about their own bodies, and thereby ensure the protection of reproductive freedom – as freedom, which the government, try as it might, cannot take away.
Dr. John Littell, M.D., Family Practice, Kissimmee, FL