Artificial Contraception

Medical/Scientific Concerns

Last week, I briefly presented the Church’s teachings on the artificial contraception through examining societal concerns. This week I want to briefly examine the medical/scientific concerns.

Although there are many ways of engaging in artificial contraception, the most popular method is the oral use of artificial hormones, including estrogen and progestogen. Collectively known as “the Pill,” these medications inhibit female fertility. In August of 1960 the first contraceptive pill, Enovid, was launched for sale in the USA. The mass-marketing of the drug was so successful that within one year of the product’s launch, over 1 million American women were using it. Let me begin by stating that there is no way that this short article can cover all aspects of the medical and scientific concerns that the Pill has caused. Instead, I will focus on three areas: (1) the physical health of woman; (2) the mental health of woman; and (3) possible concerns about artificial hormones in the water supply. Further, I invite you to take part in your own research, cautioning you that there are polemical arguments on both sides, but especially by those with a financial interest involved.
First of all, let’s be clear about one thing. The Pill is a Group 1 carcinogen according to the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society. It’s listed on the ACS website alongside asbestos, benzene, formaldehyde, tobacco and vinyl chloride.

Specifically speaking, in 2000 Chris Kahlenborn, M.D., published the book “Breast Cancer: Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill.” The author looked at twenty studies performed between 1980 and 1999, and found that eighteen of them showed that a woman who took the pill prior to her first full-term pregnancy increased her risk of future breast cancer by 40 to 72 percent, depending on the length of time she took the Pill. Further, these cancers appeared earlier, and were more aggressive, than in non-users. The implantable and injectable forms of hormonal contraception were particularly onerous in their association with breast cancer, especially as these forms tend to be used primarily by adolescent girls and young women. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) came to the same conclusion,

While some studies have shown that the Pill might cause a slight reduction in the incidence of ovarian cancer, breast cancer is by far the most prevalent cancer among woman in the United States. Some studies have shown that the rate of breast cancer has increased by as much as 200-400% since the widespread use of the pill began in 1960.

Secondly, the pill affects the mental health of women. From the original packaging of Enovid to the current packaging of Pfizer’s Demulen, there has been a warning: “Women with a history of depression should be carefully observed and the drug discontinued if the depression recurs to a serious degree.”

Anecdotal evidence of depression, mood-swings, or feeling “numb” while taking the pill is well-known: almost every woman who is familiar with hormonal birth control has either experienced these symptoms themselves or knows of someone who has. A study in March, 2005 by Australia’s Monash University compared depression symptom scores between users and non-users of combined oral contraceptives. Results showed women using the Pill had an average depression rating scale score of 17.6, compared to 9.8 in the non-user group. The women involved in the study were aged over 18, not pregnant or lactating, had no clinical history of depression and had not been on anti-depressant medication in the previous 12 months.

Finally, there have been recent reports concerning the levels of artificial hormones and the water supply. While proponents of the pill have been quick to argue that hormones present in many other sources (livestock waster, dairy foods, etc.) are more prevalent than the pill, a recent study by the British Medical Journal published in November, 2011 suggested that estrogen from birth control pills excreted through women’s urine is ending up in water supply systems and boosting rates of prostate cancer. The authors say the oral contraceptives could be acting as endocrine disturbing compounds (EDCs) – chemicals that interfere with hormones that can result in side effects such as cancer: “Temporal increases in the incidence of certain cancers (breast, endometrial, thyroid, testis and prostate) in hormonally sensitive tissues in many parts of the industrialized world are often cited as evidence that widespread exposure of the general population to EDCs has had adverse impacts on human health. ”¦ Oral contraceptives in use today can potentially act as EDCs . . . which is excreted in urine without degradation.”

The study continued that oral contraceptives, first made publicly available in the 1960s and widely used since the 1980s, could be chronic enough to have a significant clinical impact. The study examined 87 countries where women use oral contraception, condoms, intrauterine devices and vaginal barriers and examined the rate of death from prostate cancer.

No serious researcher can ignore the continuous flood of information regarding the medical dangers of oral contraceptives. Have you ever seen the television commercials showing young, pretty, happy go-lucky women as examples of those who use the Pill? Next time listen to the medical warnings at the end.