Being the first of most of my friends, either from church or college, to get married has made it necessary to do my own research on birth control options, without having many married female friends to pass information onto me about their decisions and research (this is, of course, because in conservative Christian circles, it’s usually assumed that you don’t have sex before marriage, and so education about birth control is either passed on by hearsay, your mom’s [usually bad] experience with it, or WORLD magazine articles about the pro-life movement). Any information I received was either 20 years outdated, sketchy on the science, or based on Catholic “rhythm method” information about how the female fertility cycle works.

My mom’s a nurse, so I like to take medical science seriously and believe in the worth of precautionary measures and immunizations and all that stuff that’s often dismissed in super-conservative circles as bad science and propaganda from pharmaceutical companies. While I am suspicious of the FDA and pharmaceutical groups and their back room brokerage, I do believe that most of the fine print information for medications is as accurate as possible, and I have the curiosity and patience to sort through it.

So when Kevin and I got engaged, we talked a lot about our expectations for family planning and what we felt convicted about and called to (to use the common phrases). Since I came from a big family where I had been heavily involved in helping with my younger siblings, I really didn’t feel comfortable trying to have kids right away. I [rightly, so far] felt like God had a lot of things to teach me before I became a mom, and we both wanted some time to be a married couple together before starting a family. (This is a bigger issue for some people–“Is God okay with me trying to control when I become a parent? Is this an issue where I lack faith?”–than it was for us. These questions are worth prayerfully considering on your own and together as a couple. For us, we felt like we would honor God better by waiting a bit so we could be a more mature couple and give our kids stable home, financially and emotionally and spiritually.)

We didn’t want to try to use the fertility charting method, since it would be hard for me, for various reasons, to get an accurate prediction. Once we were agreed that we both liked babies, wanted some eventually but not right away, and that we are pro-life, Kevin told me that what we decided to use was up to me, saying “it’s your body, you decide. Just talk me to me about it and explain why.” Then I got real cozy with researching hormonal birth control methods and why the pro-life movement is so strongly opposed to most of them.

What I found surprised me. Most of the information I had heard growing up was based on half-science, old science, or Catholic theology (which is a different thing entirely, and I’ll get into that a bit more later). And just for the record, my mom wasn’t the source of this misinformation–she understood the science, but she and dad felt a particular call (not just the Quiverfull-that’s-what-every-godly-couple-does! groupthink) to have a large family right away. But what I found is that, if you’re protestant, there’s no reason why you can’t be staunchly pro-life and ethically use most hormonal forms of contraception. (I’m going to leave out, for the sake of time and space, discussion of why a Christian would want to control fertility and only have planned babies. The protestant position on this is usually pretty laissez-faire as long as the right-to-life of a fetus is upheld. The Catholic perspective is much more complex. For my part, I want children and am very “pro-life”–on this issue, the death penalty, and war.)

The biggest problem that I see is simply a lack of education on the subject. A lot of abstinence-only sex-ed leaves out information on what contraceptives are and how they work, because it’s assumed that if you educate kids on that, they’ll feel more comfortable having sex. This is a weak argument–if kids are horny and don’t have the self-control or moral impetus to abstain, they’ll just have sex anyway. Abstinence-affirming sex ed with information on contraceptives could potentially prevent a lot more abortions than continuing to promote abstinence-only.

In homeschool circles, sex-ed is usually absent altogether, which is an even worse issue. This causes fear and body image problems and a ton of guilt issues that just shouldn’t exist for Christians. But I digress.

So, common things I heard about birth control that aren’t true (I’m not going to cite a lot of sources, because I want to encourage you to do your own Google search and read the fine print yourself. Also because I’m lazy, and I’d prefer to keep this post to layman’s terms.):

  1. All hormonal birth control is abortifacient.
  2. If you use the pill for a certain amount of time, it’ll be harder to have a baby later or might even make you infertile.
  3. Hormonal birth control might be abortifacient, but we don’t know. However, all morning-after pills cause abortions.
  4. Birth control should only be discussed once a couple is engaged, otherwise it’ll encourage premarital sex.

[if you think of other common assertions that should be discussed, comment and let me know!]

Here’s what I learned, in response to each of those statements!

One. Most birth control isn’t hormonally strong enough to cause an abortion if taken during pregnancy, and it’s designed to work in such a way that conception can’t occur if taken properly. The pill comes in two forms: one type uses a combination of the hormones progesterone and estrogen, and this fools the body into thinking that the woman is pregnant. Although ovulation and a period still happen, the uterine lining is thickened so an egg can’t implant , and the cervix forms a mucus plug during ovulation to prevent sperm from passing through. Essentially this allows for a normal cycle (using placebo pills to initiate a period), but creates an environment where it’s essentially impossible for fertilization to occur.

The second type iprogesterone only, and this inhibits ovulation altogether and stops the usual cycle from occurring. This is the method, I believe, which caused some infertility scares in the past, but I understand that this issue has been eliminated and doctors generally agree that there are no real detriments from preventing ovulation and a period from occurring–the earlier issues was caused by the hormone dosage.

There are, obviously, some risks associated (however inconclusively–increased risk of breast or cervical cancer for those with genetic predispositions to these diseases), and some side effects (water retention, moodiness, etc.), but the side effects are usually minimal or none if you’re on a dosage and hormonal proportion that works well for your body type and preexisting issues. (For example, I was on a pill for 9 months which made me prone to anxiety attacks, and once I switched to one that had a different variant of progesterone, as well as a slightly different progesterone to estrogen ratio, the mood swings and anxiety subsided and I was more my normal self. The downside was that on the previous medication, I didn’t have any cramping, but on the new one I experience some normal cramping on the first day of my cycle. )

The primary concern I’ve come across from pro-lifers who are okay (in theory) with the pill and accept that it won’t cause an abortion if taken according to the doctor’s instructions is this: if I miss a day, the packet tells me to take two pills in a row. It also says that if I miss 3 days in a row, I need to use other forms of BC and wait for my period to start before going back on the pill. Does this mean it’s trying to overcompensate and abort an accidental conception?  I don’t think so, and here’s why: one day isn’t long enough for conception to happen–it’s just trying to keep you from experiencing “breakthrough bleeding” mid-cycle (caused by missing the hormones for a day or two). With the three-day instruction, if your body goes back to its own cycle in the fastest way possible (conception after 3 days would be highly unlikely) and you do accidentally conceive in those 3 days, the direction to stop taking the pill is to prevent birth defects if you are pregnant at that point (taking the pill then wouldn’t cause an abortion, but it might hinder proper development a bit). If you haven’t conceived and have missed 3 days of the pill, the instructions still ask you to stop taking it because your body has experienced withdrawal from the hormones and needs to “reset” by going through the normal period cycle before you can restart the medication.

Two. The pill/patch/Nuva ring (I’m going to just lump these together as “the pill” or “BC” from here on out) have been constantly improved since they first came out. Various brands have had problems and lawsuits over the side effects, and each time this happens, the company producing the drug has had to go back to the drawing board and try to improve the “recipe” to eliminate these issues, just like any other big manufacturer. They want customer loyalty. In the 70s and 80s, there were definitely issues where some forms of hormonal birth control made it harder to conceive right after discontinuing use, and some even caused infertility.

These issues have largely been eliminated now, though it depends, of course, on how fertile you were before going on the BC, how much of the hormone is in your system and how long your body will take to adjust to start cycling normally again. A lot of this is more connected to your own metabolism, cycle length, and natural hormone balances. Because hormonal BC has been improved so much since the 80s, infertility issues after using BC are going to be preexisting issues with your own body and not the fault of the pill. Check with your gynecologist to make sure you get the best hormonal option for your body–because every woman is different, different hormonal cocktails will work better with your body than with mine or anyone else’s.

This is the benefit of coming to BC right now–there’s been enough time and research put into this so that there are a lot of different dosage options and just about everything is a refined and improved version of the stuff our moms had available to them.I had irregular cycles, but no major issues like endometriosis,  and I have high metabolism and a naturally low BMI, so I needed a low-dosage option. Someone else might be better off using a higher dosage or a different proportion of progesterone and estrogen in their BC than what I use.

Three. The morning-after pill isn’t actually an abortifacient, either, even though it’s designed to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. There are three main types of the morning-after pill and they use different hormone combinations/dosages to thicken internal mucus and delay ovulation. This creates an unwelcome environment for sperm and allows the woman’s body to hold off on releasing an egg until after the longest potential life span of sperm. The one emergency contraceptive that would be unethical for a Christian to use is the RU-486 pill, which does terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. Personally, I think that the RU-486 is as morally wrong as abortion. But I also think that victims of incest or rape should have access to the standard morning-after pill as a matter of course.

Four. I think every adolescent should be educated about birth control. And I think that a couple should discuss their expectations and ethical beliefs long before they get engaged–these are issues where it’d be healthy for spouses to be in agreement. I appreciate Kevin’s respect in letting me decided what I’m most comfortable with, but I also really want him to be equally comfortable with the choices we make in this area.

Beyond all this, girls should be comfortable with their bodies and taught to understand how things work and why, and hormonal birth control can be a great help for a woman with endometriosis, irregular cycles, painful cramps, etc. Even if a girl isn’t sexually active and doesn’t need to get a pap smear or vaginal exam done, it’s healthy for her to go to a gynecologist to just discuss her cycle and make sure there aren’t any issues that may need investigation or treatment–things like delayed puberty or missed periods are often symptoms of an eating disorder or intense stress; severe cramps can signal endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome or a hormone imbalance, etc. These things are significant, and parental insecurity about a sex talk isn’t a good reason to avoid helping your daughter know why her body works the way it does and how to know if something is amiss.

What else am I missing here? Feel free to raise questions in the comments–but be kind to me. I’m strongly pro-life (don’t bother arguing this), I’m not a chemist or a doctor, so this is just what I’ve learned through research, and I might be wrong. Check with a real doctor if you’re unsure about something, and correct me if you have medical qualification on this subject and see a mistake I’ve made out of my inexperience.

Finally, regarding the Catholic position (and I’ll just summarize generally because I’m not a Catholic–feel free to chime in if you are!): Catholics have a very detailed theology of the body that overshadows their theology of marriage and the purpose of it. Protestants don’t consider marriage to be a sacrament, and this is the fundamental difference. Because marriage is one of the seven Catholic sacraments, procreation in marriage is a sacred duty and the ability of that union to give life has a higher sacramental value than is commonly held by protestants. Therefore, any contraception is considered to be going against God’s design for marriage. This would include, I have been told, even the use of condoms. As a result, Catholics attempting to delay pregnancy will typically use a method where the couple charts the woman’s fertility via temperature readings,  learning to understand what types of mucus are discharged during peak fertility, etc. When the woman’s 3-5 day fertile window opens up, they will abstain if they want to avoid pregnancy. This is actually a pretty safe method of preventing pregnancy (and a really useful tool if you’re trying to conceive), but you have to really pay attention to your body’s rhythms and be very accurate with the temperature readings and subsequent charting (there’s actually some good technology available to make this easier, too). It’s a lot of work, but if marriage is a sacrament for procreation in your theology, it is worthwhile and ethical.


  • Great post, Hannah! I definitely agree with you and found my experience to be similar to yours (no sex ed growing up, large community fear and myth-mongering about birth control). My mom herself doesn’t think I should be on birth control and believes a lot of the myths that you cite.

    One thought on Catholics/sacraments: Some Protestants do consider marriage a sacrament, like myself, being Episcopalian. (Anglicans count there, too.) However, I’m not all that familiar with the Episcopal reconciliation of body theology with contraception; I do know that we don’t have any problems with contraception (at least not publicly).

    The thing I’ve always wanted to know about Catholics doing “Natural Family Planning”: How is that not considered contraception? You are preventing pregnancy (if you get lucky and do it right). Have you ever heard someone explain that? I’m curious.

    • Hum…I haven’t been taught that Anglicans/Episcopalians believe that marriage is a sacrament (but I’m only recently an Episcopalian). My understanding is that it is sacramental, but not a sacrament like communion or baptism.

      I think for the Catholics, it’s not contraception because it’s not interfering with potential life–it’s just not having intercourse. That said, I do know that’s the strictest interpretation, so I’m not sure how they come down on it.

  • may I say “well done”?! I love how precise your writing is! I know how controversial this topic can get, and does get. I proud of how willing you are to put yourself out there and say what you believe no matter the reaction. That’s very commendable. 🙂 <3

  • Megan

    First of all, Hannah, and I’ve said this before: everything you post is fascinating and informative, and I have enormous respect for your thoroughness in backing up your beliefs.

    Second, and this always makes me laugh because it shouldn’t be a secret anymore, is that Catholics are no longer in agreement AMONG THEMSELVES about contraception. There’s actually a quiet but intense battle going on between women religious and the bishops right now, regarding multiple women’s rights issues that conflict with traditional Church teachings. As it turns out, the majority of modern Catholic women in the United States either use or support the use of contraception, and some people have even come out with the assertion that there is no difference between a physical or hormonal barrier and the Catholic rhythm method – the intention behind all of them is to prevent a pregnancy, which is something that traditional Catholic theology teaches is wrong. There have been prominent advocates for the Pill within the Church (i.e. John Rock), and there was a point when the Church came very close to approving the use of hormonal contraceptives – he caught the ear of quite a few bishops and cardinals. It was Pope Paul VI who ended up shooting it down, possibly for good. So, there really isn’t universal agreement within the faith regarding contraceptives. Keep an ear out, big changes may happen within our lifetimes.

    • Tony

      First I would like to say Hannah, I very much appreciate the care you took in familiarizing yourself with Catholic teaching and representing it in a truthful manner.

      Only to shed a little light on Megan’s comment I would say the following:

      Indeed it’s true that there are Catholics who disagree with the Church’s teaching on contraception, as there are Catholics who disagree with other teachings of the Church. This has always been the case because faith is something alive. Faith is a journey of learning the truth, of struggling with it, and hopefully of drawing closer to it every day. The question on the table is this, I think: How is truth determined? Who has the authority to say what is true? As Catholics, we believe that the Apostles were given a share in the authority of Jesus Christ, and with this authority the Apostles and their successors, the Pope and bishops, are able to discern rightly what is true and good, as concerns matters of faith and morals. “I declare to you, you are Peter [Rock], and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Praise God that truth is not determined by majority vote, but depends on something more sustainable and lasting (Truth itself, or Himself). [Thank you for that soundbite, Cardinal Ratzinger: “I think we must reflect more on what democracy in the exercise of authority would mean. Is truth determined by a majority vote, only for a new ‘truth’ to be ‘discovered’ by a new majority tomorrow?”]

      A little history on the Church’s determination of the morality of hormonal contraception: When the popular use of oral contraception entered the scene in the 1950’s and 60’s, the Church was called upon to consider the morality of this form of contraception. Indeed, Pope John XXIII called a commission of doctors, theologians, etc. to consider and discuss this issue. Pope Paul VI continued the work of the commission. It’s true that the majority of those on the commission suggested that the Church change its teachings on contraception, but in the end, the Holy Father read their reports and listened to their thoughts and opinions, and through the gifts of Holy Spirit defined the Church’s teachings in his encyclical Human Vitae. I fear that US Catholics are setting themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment and bitterness toward the Church if they are waiting for this teaching to change and that it would prove much more fruitful to use our time to better understand and love all the Church’s teachings. Humanae Vitae is a magnificent place to start.

      http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html

      Pax!

      • +1 internet points. Thrilled to have you chiming in!

  • Fantastic! I totally agree (and I joined the Catholic church last year). The only thing i wanted to point out (it’s very minor), is that while using any form of foreign contraception (meaning not the NFP method) is discouraged in catholic marriages, the Church does encourage the Pill’s use for medical reasons. I have endometriosis so I’ll have to stay on the Pill until I want to have a baby. The catholic church has no problem with this- the Pill actually makes it do I CAN have a baby later. Some people think that the Church has all these unrealistic expectations for women but it really isn’t true.

    Love your article!

  • Vicki S.

    One of the joys of this season in my life is the opportunity to learn from my adult children. I will carefully consider your thoughts, Hannah, and agree with Caleigh that you are to be commended for how carefully you articulate your ideas, as well as your willingness to tackle sensitive and difficult topics.

  • Amanda McKrell

    My story is similar with an unexpected twist– although I’d come to the same conclusion as you when we were first married, I eventually became personally uncomfortable with the birth control pill. While I have no ethical concerns about taking the pill for contraception and did not personally suffer side effects, I encourage the curious to research the Fertility Awareness Method (distinguished from Natural Family Planning, which requires periods of abstinence).

    A year ago I would have laughed at it, with a complete set of firmly rooted myths about its efficacy and the trouble involved. Now I’m dumbfounded that I spent so much of my life knowing almost nothing about my body in theory and actually nothing about it in practice. Sacrament or not, in my experience, a pill swallowed once a day was a rather sterile experience of intimacy and fertility and I’m frankly frustrated that outdated and completely ineffectual practices like the rhythm method kept me from exploring non-chemical birth control. The “amount of trouble” involved in FAM is greatly exaggerated.

    While I don’t regret spending a year on birth control to settle into married life, I do regret that we often wait so long (usually when we decide we’d like a family) to learn about even very basic aspects of our bodies (something sex ed can only do in a general but not a personal sense).

    • Ahhh, good thoughts. I appreciate your perspective, and maybe eventually I’ll be able to follow in similar decisions. However, there were other factors (really irregular, painful cycles, etc.) which made me decide not to mess with FAM or NFP, etc., right away. I needed to get my weight up and have some rest from the cycles I’d been having for a while before changing methods.

      • Amanda McKrell

        I actually experienced similar issues which had me on the pill and I was grateful for the time “off” while I was on chemical birth control. Ironically, women who chart typically are better in-tuned to what’s happening in their bodies and can diagnose issues earlier on. For instance, I always thought I was just really irregular. Charting has made it more obvious to me the way things like eating well (and yes, eating more!) and stress affect my body and to distinguish between “normal” pain and abnormal (cysts, other issues) that would be so difficult to otherwise discover. I guess my platform is that charting is as useful for women’s health as it is for contraception/ fertility achievement and it’s a more holistic approach to fertility that involves both partners.

        But I agree that right away isn’t always best. Contraception is an intensely personal decision and also, I think, should rarely be a static one. I promised myself when I used chemical birth control pills that I would regularly (even daily) “discern” whether it was right for me. And to my surprise, one day I woke up and it wasn’t.

  • agreed and agreed with the others who say “well done!” you really do such a great job thinking critically, explaining sharply yet simply, with a kind not aggressive tone.

    i’d actually be thrilled someday to talk with you about your “family-planning conviction.” caleb and i have a very different “conviction” or what we “are called to” but we really believe (really) that the important thing is searching God, Scripture, each other and google to have a conviction of your own – for your marriage, your family, and your lives. NOT just “do what your parents do” or “what our pastors did!” – whether your parents/pastors/friends/etc did or did not use bc, fp, etc. it’s not good enough to do what they did. anywho. you know all of that.

    i have spent years studying the bc pill/patch/etc and here is where i could not in faith use it (and let me know what your thoughts!): though the first and second method of bc would not be harmful to the life of a human (preventing ovulation/estrogen + inhibiting sperm/progesterone) the third method (thinning of uterus lining/progesterone) is dealing with a human life. if the first two methods failed, and there was conception, the fertilized egg and new baby would travel inside it’s mother looking for shelter and food (survival.) i know that it is VERY common to miscarry before a baby implants on the uterus wall, and before a woman ever knows she has conceived. but in my eyes, if i was specifically taking something or doing something that hindered my child from nourishment, protection and ultimately life i think i would be responsible for it’s death.

    for example, if i had a 12-month old toddler who i refused to let come into our house, and i refused to feed, which led to my child starving to death i would be doing enormous evil. but if a horrible accident happened and my toddler got lost or taken (and therefore not in safety or in my care) and his life was taken, it would be a tragedy, no doubt, but not something *i* did to my child.

    that example seems so extreme – and if you don’t think it’s a level analogy, say so! – but in my heart, i cannot be comfortable purposely taking or doing anything that *could* starve, reject, harm my babies life. i believe with all my heart that at the instant of conception, human life has been born. a fertilized egg is a person with a soul. i love the way doug wilson said it “a fertilized human egg will live forever, and an unfertilized one won’t.”

    and while i may not know i’m pregnant for a few weeks, and accidentally do things like drink alcohol, or ride horses, or go on roller-coasters, that would not be protecting life, when i take bc i *know* that a life could be in jeopardy, i know that i *could* be starving the sweet little person.

    because i am eagerly and unwaveringly pro-life (like yourself) i vow to preserve, sustain, enrich, and nurture the wellness and life of all people – from a nano-second old baby in a fallopian tube, to a century-old woman in a nursing home.

    i hope that made sense… keep writing so i can selfishly glean from you!

    • oh! and one thing i forgot:

      i do not believe condoms, diaphragms, NFP, or surgeries would be unsafe to human life. and i do not think the first two methods of bc are, either. but there are no estrogen-only pills anymore (for obvious reasons) and it is impossible to have a progesterone-pill that doesn’t effect the lining of the uterus (at least as far as i’ve been able to research.)

      that is all.

      🙂

    • Kristin, that’s a good point and one I’ve thought a lot about. But frankly, [as far as my limited knowledge goes!] if you have the right dose of combined progesterone and estrogen for your body, it’s not going to be an issue with the thinning you mention, because the other two elements will be working in conjunction, and there won’t be a fertilized egg trying to implant. So, I guess I feel like your metaphor would be a good one if that was a medical reality.

      That said, if there was a BC that ONLY thinned the uterine walls, I wouldn’t use it.

      I suppose it’s relevant to admit that I find it kind of bizarre when there’s a miscarriage in the first 6-8 weeks (due to the common causes of failed implantation or malformed zygote) and the couple has read a positive pregnancy test two weeks before (hormones in the urine indicating the presence of a fertilized egg), and they have a funeral/cremation/burial for the … remains of the pregnancy. About 1/3 of fertilized eggs (I think that’s the right statistic) never become a viable pregnancy after the 6 week mark, so why should it be a huge deal just because you found out that you had one of those? That’s why most couples don’t announce until the 12 week mark. I know the emotional element is the really significant part–if you were craving a child or dealing with infertility, that WOULD be a freaking big deal, and I’ll mourn with you. I’m not insensitive to that at all. But the occasional illogic of making a huge deal over a 6 week (2-3 weeks after conception) failed pregnancy sometimes bothers me.

      • “…because the other two elements will be working in conjunction, and there WON’T be a fertilized egg trying to implant.” <– If I could be promised that, it might be a different story for me. But the time/practice/"mistakes" it takes to get to the right dose for your body as well is a little scary (though some do get a right dose right away!). Also, the reality that people who use the pill right (as in, everyday, on time, etc) do still get pregnant. It's rare, but it happens. And so it also likely happens (rarely) that a fertilized egg makes it to a thinned uterus.

        The chances are slim, but nothing in medicine (obviously) is a guarantee. Heck, I know people who have had vasectomies and over a year later gotten pregnant!

        Which, I do believe, comes down to your level of faith. I wouldn't be in faith to risk… even slightly…, taking the pill and doing something harmful to my child, if by CHANCE it happened to fertilize (against all odds!)

        But I hope you don't ever doubt my respect and admiration for you and your husband! I wish more – including myself – thought like you, and then had the courage and skill to speak like you. You're a woman to be praised!

    • Ram

      This is my way of “liking” your comment. I liked the fact that you researched BC and its ramifications. Your analogy makes perfect sense to me. On the things that harm the fertilized egg, true, it is not YOU who did something.
      Something that bothers me about pro-choice argument is that 50% of fertilization results in spontaneous abortions and therefore, it is ok to terminate after fertilization. By that line of reasoning, 100% of people die, so, doesn’t mean it is OK to kill them.

  • Ram

    I have no problem with theology of having children when couples think it is most appropriate. However, I am concerned about the science and health aspect of using pill for women using as well as for the progeny.

    #3. Morning after pill may cause fertilized egg from implantation, and therefore, mechanism similar to RU-486? This is a possibility.
    Here is the FDA data: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/021998lbl.pdf

    12 CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY
    12.1 Mechanism of Action
    Emergency contraceptive pills are not effective if a woman is already pregnant. Plan B One-Step is believed to act as an emergency contraceptive principally by
    preventing ovulation or fertilization (by altering tubal transport of sperm and/or ova). In addition, it may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium). It is
    not effective once the process of implantation has begun.

    #2 I can remember from recent memory that a FDA study found using NuvaRing increased pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis.
    I haven’t read up on other birth control options and how they have been shown to affect women and the lawsuits there after. Hannah, going back to drawing board and whipping out new recipe is not as simple as you may think. Drugs are designed to work on pathways that are already known (including birth control and other every other drugs!) but heaven known how many other pathways that are unknown! Biological pathways are bundle of hair balls and no one knows how birth control drugs effect the gene network.

    No one knows what long term effects these hormonal birth control will on women in the long term. And if the effect is bad, is it the best interest of pharmaceutical companies to let people know that? Further, how may these hormonal drugs affect reproductive organs and eventually the progeny? I can bet that companies haven’t looked at the epigenetic result on of using these drugs. For epigenetics is a very recent finding.

    It takes at least 10 years for the risk factors to be investigated. I think NuvaRing was approved early 2000s, the death, risk factors haven’t been reported until 2011. I am not going to consider current pills on market as safe either. We think we know a lot about this. We don’t. Given the brevity of the issue, if Version 1 of NuvaRing increased risk of blood clots, and the company said Version 2 is modified, better,enhanced with no risk of blood clots, should one risk taking it?

    We think we know a lot. We don’t. If these drugs effect my partner and progeny adversely, I wouldn’t be able to live with that guilt. I don’t see any problems with non hormonal birth control. So, I suppose I am with catholics not for their theology, but for potential medical reasons.

    • Yay! I was hoping you’d jump in, Ram. We need some medical expertise in this discussion.

      I agree–the Nuva Ring squicks me out a bit with the unknowns, and there’s a ton of things we don’t know about the long-term effects. I’m thankful to come 30ish years in and have some “safer” (relative term) options available to me than my mom’s generation had. It’s probably a really bad idea to use hormonal BC for an extended period of time, but again, we don’t know.

      But I’m also going to eat red meat and potato chips and butter and corn…and risk the long-term effects of those. In this age it’s the best you can do to be educated and thoughtful and prayerful and then pick your poison. If you can’t comfortably choose hormonal BC, that’s fine, as long as you’re doing it for educated reasons. I just got tired of hearing a lot of lies passed around and wanted to share the little bit I had learned.

      • Ram

        Right, we pick our poison. I just think this is a poison with results that are not reversible. I can eat red meat, potato chips, smoke cigarettes and all if I later stop doing it, eat healthy and exercise, I can thankfully reverse the damage to an extent. With hormonal BC, we realize it too far late for the things we have done in ignorance.

  • @Kristen: Right, it does come down to what you have faith for. And I just didn’t have faith to try something that might have me becoming a mom a year out from the wedding, and I just had to lay these issues down and trust that Jesus has covered my lack of faith in this area and is going to meet me where I’m at, not ask of me more than he’s given me right now. The hardest option isn’t always the right one.

    And if you have faith for it, wonderful! This is sort of a meat-sacrificed-to-idols grey area, and the best part is that we can respect and encourage each other in our varying decisions on this deeply personal issue.

  • Allison

    Good post! I am not on the pill, but dot have anything morally against it. My husband and I do the “natural family planning” method, although it’s not called that. Like you mentioned in your post, it is not at all a guessing game and is very accurate if you take the time to know what you are doing and research it ahead of time. We have had success with this for a year. We chose this method, not really out of moral concerns, but rather just not to have to deal with some of the horomonal side effects you mentioned. It’s definitely not for everyone, but is a viable form of BC.
    I was the same as you growing up, not being taught about BC, and when I got engaged my husband and I weren’t sure which way to go, and had heard a lot of myths you mentioned. Thankfully, I have an older brother and sister who were able to give sound advice and information.

    Thanks for your post!

  • Brittany C

    Fascinating. I really enjoyed reading 🙂

  • Sterling

    The Catholic teaching regarding sex is really beautiful, so I want to shed further light on the Catholic perspective:
    First, the Catholic Church no longer promotes The Rhythm Method. It is an outdated form of NFP that works only on women with very regular cycles. The Church promotes the Creighton Model, the Billings Ovulation Method, and the Sympto-Thermal method. These are much more scientific and accurate in knowing a woman’s cycle, regardless of whether it is regular or irregular. I just wanted to clear up that misunderstanding.
    1. Why is NFP not contraception?

    The main difference between the two is that contraception seeks to stop pregnancy, while NFP is refraining from the sexual act during the fertile period. Contraception is explained in its very name “Contra-” To be against, and in this case the “Ception” meaning conception. It’s against conception. It divorces from the sexual act the openness of life. The purpose of sex is to bond the man and woman together and to create new life together with God. The sexual act says to God “You are a part of this union and we will welcome a new soul in the life we have created together in this loving union.” NFP maintains this openness to life by reverently abstaining from the sexual act during the fertile period because it is not prudent to have children at this time. Thus having children still remains completely entwined in the sexual act, and if it is not prudent to have children at that time (i.e. health issues, financial issues, etc.) the couple makes the sacrifice to deny themselves that union for the duration of the woman’s fertile period. I say sacrifice because that is important. The couple wants to be together, as any healthy marriage should, but if it is not prudent to have a child, then they sacrifice this beautiful act for that time, denying themselves all that comes with it, because it is an act centered on creating new life. They may have intercourse outside of the fertile period, and while a baby will not be created, they are not denying a life, but are still open to it, knowing that the woman’s natural cycle will probably not bring forth the conception of new life.

    Contraception on the other hand severs the relationship between sex and children because it denies the natural cycle of life. When a couple following NFP refrains from having sex they are saying: “since it is not prudent at this time to have children, we will deny ourselves the sexual joy of being together for this time, thus keeping holy the sexual union and its primary good of bringing forth new life.” Contraception says: “We don’t want children right now, but we still want to have sex. Those two do not necessarily need to be integrally related.” It is this very mentality that perpetuates abortion! Contracepting couples have decided that they will not welcome a life, and when a life comes from their sexual act, they find themselves faced with a decision: will we keep this life that we didn’t want in the first place? We have seen that 4,000 women a day answer with a resounding: NO.
    2.
    a. Catholics are no longer in agreement? While it’s true that members of the church may use or even promote contraception, the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church have not wavered on this subject and will not. Just because a group of members do differently, doesn’t make the organization itself unclear on how it stands. I think we can all agree that Westboro Baptist saying “God hates Fags” is not representative of Christian morality. A couple of Encyclicals discuss the subject of contraception in detail and why is considered a grave moral evil. Humane Vitae, a widely known encyclical by Pope Paul VI (Found here) denounces contraception as a severing of the marital union and new life. This is the stand of the Catholic Church.
    b. Women religious vs. The Bishops? If a corporate member of Honda were to say that Toyota makes a much better vehicle and Honda is just wrong on these certain aspects, management would move to have that person removed. He is perfectly free to express his views, but he will not be allowed to do it under the guise of representing Honda. It would be ridiculous. The LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) is under review at the request of the Vatican for teaching against or remaining ambiguous on issues vital to the Catholic faith, such as contraception, abortion, gay marriage, etc. Look at this simply from a non-religious standpoint: we have a global organization with a clear message, goal, creed, etc. that has a group within itself that is promoting ideas contrary to what the organization stands for. Would it not be perfectly understandable for the organization to review and take appropriate action to correct this problem? The LCWR must teach Catholic Theology truthfully and fully, or not at all. The church does not want to silence them or their own personal views, but will silence them as representatives of the Church, since they do not truthfully represent Catholic Theology. I pray that under the guidance of the Bishops the LCWR will reform their teachings on these vital issues and teach true Catholic Theology.
    c. The Church has almost allowed contraception? It is true that there was a notable voice for removing the ban on contraception at one point in the church. Thankfully Christ gave us Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II to steer us in the right direction regarding marriage and sexuality. If the Church were to accept contraception it would go against the entire theology centered around marriage and family. I can assure you, especially under the strong leadership of Pope Benedict this will not happen. Until this past century, all Christian denominations believed contraception to be immoral. The Catholic Church will stand firm in its teaching regarding the sacredness of marriage and sexuality.
    d. Universal agreement within the faith regarding contraceptives? People wrongly assume that those in America, where things are much more liberal, should speak for the Church as a whole. Instead, the Teaching Body of the Church, must always view the entire Global Church when making decisions, not simply the American Church. And I will point out the rest of the Catholic Church around the world is much more conservative on the issues of contraception The Catholic theology on contraception has not changed and will not change, and many of the faithful (myself included) are grateful for that.
    3. The Catholic Church does not “encourage” the use of contraception for medical purposes, but might “allow” it for these uses. However, the instances in which a woman would need to be on birth control are fewer than you might think. There is a lot of money in the contraceptive industry that has influenced the way doctors treat women’s health issues. This money has driven doctors to treat all women the same: Cramping, PMS, irregular cycles, hormonal acne, etc. are all treated the same: take the pill. What happens when the woman goes off the pill? The problem comes right back! In most instances, the pill hasn’t solved the woman’s health issue but has masked it and allowed doctors to become complacent in finding a true cure. You are correct to say that the Church allows the Pill as a medical remedy, however if the couple were to use it for the purpose of preventing conception, then it would be a grave moral evil because the couple is seeking to deny life and separate the marital act from its primary good.
    4. The illogic of making a huge deal over a 6 week failed pregnancy? I would be very careful about this. You say you are unwaveringly pro-life, and that life starts at conception, so a miscarriage at ANY time is the death of a child. While it is harder for the couple the further along in development because their emotional attachment to the child has grown, that does not negate that a child has still died. It is a sad, but natural part of life. Therefore using the word “illogic” to describe the sadness over the loss of the child (no matter how great or small) comes off rather cruel and insensitive. You may personally consider it making just a “big deal” of it, but as a pro-lifer isn’t every life a “big deal?” Isn’t that the whole point?
    5. I agree with both Kristen and Ram in their understanding that Emergency Contraceptives are abortifacient. No matter how small the likelihood, the use of these is still accepting the possibility of abortion, which being pro-life should be unacceptable. I also appreciate that Kristen humanizes the baby, in her understanding that taking ANYTHING that “*could* starve, reject, harm, [her] baby’s life” something she is not comfortable with. I completely agree.
    Now on to why NFP is better:
    1. No medical side effects what-so-ever. You can’t have a medical side effect if you’re not on a medicine. It’s that simple. So no hormonal imbalances, reduced likelihood of miscarriages when trying to get pregnant, No potential for infertility, no increase in breast cancer risk (Several studies listed here show a pattern of increased risk of triple-negative breast cancer associated with oral contraceptives), and no reduction in sexual desire. NFP is the safest form of family planning there is.
    2. It’s better for couples. The Pill separates a couple from each other, because it makes it all the girl’s problem (Or in the case of condoms, the guy’s problem). NFP is a shared responsibility. Yes, it’s not the guy’s cycle, but he’s responsible for helping chart his wife’s cycle. And I think that’s wonderful. I want to be involved in my wife’s cycle, to understand how her body is working. It’s a beautiful connection between the two that allows us to share in her fertility, not just medicate it. And a bonus for guys: charting helps us know when “that time of the month” is upon us and we should be buying chocolate like it’s about to be banned. Trust me, it’s better for our marriage when I know what week I should only be saying “yes dear.” I mean heck, it even makes those not so bad.
    3. Better sex life. When you mess with a woman’s hormones, you’re going to get some things off. Surveys show that women who use NFP when compared to those using hormonal contraceptives have better more fulfilling sex lives, because their arousal is not dampened by some pill. And let’s be honest here, do you really want to like sex less?
    4. It’s cheaper. One of the reasons people want free contraception is because it can be expensive. But you wouldn’t have to worry about that with NFP, because all you’re really buying is a few supplies, like charts and classes or material on the subject. But as an overall price, it is much lower than a constant monthly bill for contraceptives.
    5. Ladies, you know your bodies better. Today Gynecologists are just handing out contraceptives like candy. It is socially understand that if you’re only enough to have a baby, you should be on contraceptives. Furthermore, going against this idea is met with dismay (My girlfriend can tell you of the overly negative experiences of doctors who practically tried to force contraceptives on her). They give you a pill, tell you when to take it, and boom, done. But with NFP a woman (and her husband) get to know how her body works naturally. They get to understand her cycle in depth, all the unique and frankly cool aspects of her reproductive cycle. More importantly, using NFP a woman can take note of problems along the way, such as erratic bleeding, mood swings, etc. That she might want to consult a doctor about, that otherwise might have simply been ignored as contraceptive side effects. There is absolutely no negative I can glean from a woman having a good firm understanding of her own body. This is empowering. A pill shouldn’t decide your cycle, ladies, you’re plenty smart enough to learn about how your own body works. Knowledge is power. This is your body. Take charge of it.
    These are some of the more important benefits to NFP, and there are plenty more. But to be fair, let’s look at the downsides:

    1. It takes hard work. You have to go to the classes, learn the process, study the material, and then you have to consistently put it into action. That’s right, it’s not as easy as taking a pill once a day. But, if hard work is the only downside you can say about this, that’s not much of a negative. Marriage is hard work. It takes a lot of time, care, patience, love and growing together. It’s a beautiful wonderful thing I whole heartily look forward too, but it’s not easy. So yes, charting isn’t always convenient. But I will say all the far outweigh the fact that it’ll take time out of my day.
    2. You have to abstain from sex periodically. You think I take that lightly? Not on your life. But I will do it. Why? For my wife’s health, for our marriage, for the spirituality of our marriage, for our future children. Marriage is about denying yourself for another and abstaining during fertile times is a beautiful example of that. I will love my wife with all my heart, and I will want to have sex with her, but by denying myself that joy I am showing her that I love and respect her, our marriage, and our faith. I would never ask my wife to take potential health risks just so I can have more sex. Abstaining in NFP is a beautiful example of sacrifice within the marriage, and I fully believe it brings blessings upon that bond. Plus, it builds in a mini-honeymoon to every month. The periodic abstinence allows the couple to explore other ways to express their love, and it prevents one person (or both people) from feeling used sexually.

    Well that’s my two cents on the matter. I hope I have faithfully represented The Catholic Church, The Theology of The Body, and NFP.

  • Sterling
    • Sterling! What a surprise and delight to have you reading and commenting here. I hope you’re doing well. It’s been a while.

      I’m glad you posted this. You’ve written a pretty fantastic apologetic for NFP and the Catholic viewpoint, and I think this is really helpful for everyone else here–we have the more conservative, traditional Catholic perspective now, as well as the slightly more progressive perspective, represented by Julianne and Megan.

      Personally, I have some issues with the points you raised, and these are partly with your personal perspective and partly with the Catholic perspective.

      First, I honestly think that citing NFP as “better for sex” and “creating a mini honeymoon at the end of her period” is really simplistic and a poor representation of how varied each person’s sex drive is and what works best for each couple. Did you know that when a woman is ovulating, typically her libido is at its peak? And, not all versions of the pill will reduce libido, either. If you work with your gynecologist to get the pill that is the correct formula for you, this will not be an issue. It may even increase libido. *smiles*

      You assert that the pill just puts the pause button on physical issues, only to bring them back again when you go off of it. This may be the case for some people, but if you’re on a hormonal treatment to combat a hormone imbalance (increased body hair, endometriosis, painful cycles, cysts, acne, etc.), it can help trigger the correct hormone production and be tapered off over time. For some of these issues (endometriosis, for one), a woman may need to be on the pill indefinitely to manage the symptoms and prevent it from getting a lot worse. (Julianne, feel free to enlighten us all in more detail on why this is necessary.) Again, this is only if you’re on the right stuff and have a good gyno. It sounds to me like your girlfriend has had some irresponsible doctors treating her, and if she ever needs a recommendation for a great pro-life gynecologist in Richmond who will work with her body’s specific needs and not push the pill on her, let me know.

      Regarding the importance of NFP for educating a couple about fertility and how the woman’s body works: I firmly believe that this is essential for every woman and every couple, but I don’t think that an NFP class is the best or only way to learn those things. It is a good way among many, but the Catholics don’t really have a monopoly on the idea that this is important. However, most protestant parents really suck at sex-ed, and I am passionate about understanding the body and having a theology of the body, as a protestant.

      And finally, my own ethical qualms: I didn’t say I believed that life begins at conception, and I left that out for a reason. I’m not 100% in agreement with the nuances of what that phrase implies, and I might be more in line with an assertion that life begins at implantation, or something similar. I’m not really settled on this, so I’d like to ask you not to push me further on this issue, but my reasons have less to do with my belief in the unique individuality of every fertilized egg and its DNA, and more to do with thinking that a non-viable “chemical pregnancy” is not a life, but is perhaps a memento mori, but I feel it is not worthy of true grief. If grief is needed by the woman to deal with a chemical pregnancy, perhaps it is for the death of the idea of a child, the unique child that might have been of that conception, but not for a physical reality–it was never viable because it never implanted. As I said, this is not firm, but those are the lines along which I’m thinking.

  • Melanie Blackwell McAfee

    Hi Hannah,

    Appreciate your thoughts and comments regarding OCP’s. When Rob and I first married, i used OCP’s. We later switched to natural family planning (ovulation method). I began having some physical side effects, and I was only 28 at the time. Also, I had always understood that the the pill prevented ovulation. While this is true for the most part, he research that we found at the time (and this was about 1998) indicated that if fertilization did occur (Most folks know this, but I will just mention for those who do not know the anatomy: fertilization occurs in the fallopian tube, not the uterus. Fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube and implants in the uterus), the thinning of the uterine wall caused by the OCP’s would most likely prevent implantation. So the physical side effects along with this information led me to discontinuing the pill. For us, the ovulation method was very effective. We used condoms if we wanted to have sex when I was ovulating. I appreciated that Rob became as actively responsible for the birth control as I was. And it seems right that a man should be since he is fertile all of the time and a woman is able to conceive only a few days out of a cycle.

    Regarding the comments about sex education and homeschoolers: Tthe experience you described is not just that of homeschoolers…it is the same for many young girls. Moms are too often embarrassed to discuss these things frankly with their daughters…and in contrast to what Song of Solomon describes: the young lady received instruction from her MOTHER about the art of lovemaking. In our family, we begin frank discussions about sex as soon as a kiddo notices that boys have penises and girls have vaginas. My oldest daughter is 10 and we are starting to cover topics that I didn’t know until I was 25 and newly married. My hope is that I get as much information to her before she goes teenager on me. I also want my kids to understand sex within the Biblical context and for them to be able to ask me questions when they are teenagers without fearing they will die of embarrassment.

    I beg of the Christian community…have trusted women friends who your girls can go to for information. Let your kids know it’s ok to ask Mrs. So in So about her opinion on these topics as well as yours. Better yet, have a gang over to the house, kick out the boys, and let the moms talk to all of the teens about this stuff…and do this on a regular basis.

    Best book I found on the subject of fertility in women: Taking Charge of your Fertility. It is packed with useful information about how your body works. It explains how women with all cycles (regular and irregular) can be aware of their periods of fertility. All girls should read this before they go to college, in my humble opinion. Information works both ways: helps you get pregnant, keeps you from getting pregnant.

    Concerns I have about OCP’s: inconclusive evidence about links to breast cancer in women and long list of side effects and precautions associated with use. Things that annoy me about OCP’s: the pain-in-the-butt side effects that many women must endure: decreased libido, weight gain, breast tenderness, yada-yada. Women of all faiths and backgrounds should go on a sex strike until a better solution is discovered. Now that would speed up the research!

    All my best to you and your hubbie, Hannah. Thanks for opening up the subject.

    • Yay Melanie! I’m so happy you’re reading here. I have fond memories of babysitting for you guys.

      Actually, the first time I babysat for you, your oldest started telling me about the anatomy of her cat’s nether regions, using highly technical language. I thought this was both hilarious and wonderful, because I knew that you were talking about things with her early on and would be a good parent to have in the teen years and for the sex talk. So, kudos to you. I came home that night and told my mom that I wanted to be that sort of mom someday.

      Thanks for sharing your experience here. I’ve had such a great experience with my OCP, but it’s true, there are a lot of side effects and it’s hard to find the one that works best with your body. Sometimes it just doesn’t help. And yes, it’s linked to breast cancer and has a lot of precautions, because it is a drug and it’s not really perfected yet. So these are all things to bear in mind when weighing this decision. I personally don’t think it’s safe or wise to use hormonal contraceptives for more than 3-4 years, at most. The longer you use it, the more risks are associated, especially if you have family history of breast cancer or other similar hormone-related diseases.

  • Logan

    I have no idea where you are getting your information from but must of it is totally false. All hormonal birth control methods contain an abortifacient factor if you agree that life begins at fertilization. The main mode of prevention is stopping the woman from ovulating at all (which is actually more effective in the combo pill then the single hormone pill) thickening of the cervical mucus which helps stop sperm from reaching an egg if one is released, and finally, the thinning of the uterine lining which prevents a fertilized egg from implantation. This final fail safe is an abortifacient.