One item on a list of things that make me crazy.

I’ve been reading a lot about Melinda Gates efforts to donate billions to provide contraceptives to those in poorer countries. In the articles, they usually mention that she is ‘defying the Catholic Church’ by doing so. Take, for example, this particular quote from an article in ‘The Independent’ out of the UK:

Melinda Gates, billionaire philanthropist and practising Catholic, yesterday laid down the gauntlet to the Vatican by vowing to dedicate her life to improving access to contraception for women in the developing world.

This was the FIRST sentence in the article. I know I titled this piece ‘One item’ but I would like to mention two points that jumped off the screen and hit me in the face – I will, however, focus on the first:

1) The article described Mrs. Gates as a ‘practising Catholic’.

2) The article indicated that Mrs. Gates ‘laid down the gauntlet to the Vatican’.

In the second point, the author implies that Mrs. Gates is throwing down a challenge to the Vatican as though they believe that the Church will somehow be swayed by Mrs. Gates and her billions of dollars. That’s right, 2000 years of teaching will be changed because Mrs. Gates has decided that it is better to provide contraception and abortifacients to the underprivileged in poor countries rather than continue their already broad efforts to provide expanded health coverage, or to spend the millions that the Church spends to help provide farms, clean water, shelter etc…

In the eyes of the Catholic Church, every life is sacred and has dignity. In Mrs. Gates world, the solution to the problem is that they simply not be born. Mrs. Gates feels that rather than attempt to instill and educate regarding reproduction and natural forms of preventing pregnancy, that we should instead encourage women to keep their bodies in artificial states of pregnancy and pump their bodies full of synthetic hormones.

Mrs. Gates said:

 “I believe in not letting women die, I believe in not letting babies die, and to me that’s more important than arguing about what method of contraception [is right].”

What she really believes is that life be prevented entirely – in my humble opinion, this borders on eugenics.

What really bothers me, though, is that the author of the article professes that Melinda Gates is a ‘practising Catholic’, yet indicates that she has challenged the Vatican. Clearly the author understands that what Mrs. Gates is promoting is entirely against the most basic and fundamental beliefs of the Church. On the one hand – she is Catholic. On the other hand – she is challenging the Church. How, then, is one a ‘practising’ anything if they are seeking to change the most fundamental teachings.

Every time Catholics attend Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed which states that:

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

This is key and critical. The Catholic Church depends on unity but welcomes diversification. The unity comes from our beliefs, the diversification comes from how we express those beliefs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly defines the ‘Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage’ in which it states:

2399    The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).

Yes, yes, there are those will argue – ‘Oh, those men just want to control women… yada yada yada yada’, but one only needs to look back to Pope Paul VI’s predictions as the widespread use of the birth control pill took hold:

In the case of Mrs. Gates, she clearly doesn’t believe in this particular teaching of the Church and, therefore, is not in unity in with the Church. If one is not exercising unity with the Catholic Church, can one then describe themselves as a ‘practising Catholic’? The Church will not change – thank goodness! I’m not here to judge Mrs. Gates, per se, but look at the logic of statements like these. There are lots of things within other faiths that I really like and some which I believe – but I don’t believe ALL of them. Can I call myself a ‘practising Jew’ if I believe that Jesus is the son of God? Can I call myself a ‘practising Mormon’ if I believe in the Holy Trinity? If I don’t believe in the ‘core beliefs’ of a particular faith then should I try and change that faith or look for a faith in which I share the same core beliefs.

As for the effort of the Gates themselves, how nice of them and the folks at the UN to create an even larger environment for the objectification of women. And what about the spread of AIDS? The pill, IUDs etc… do nothing to stop the spread of AIDS. The most successful program in Africa to slow the spread of AIDS took place in Uganda where they promoted – egads – abstinence! Imagine telling people the truth and having it have a positive impact! Will wonders never cease?!

But, back to Mrs. Gates. I’m not sure I can even appreciate the motivation behind her desire to ‘help’ in this particular case because it does nothing to promote or encourage any kind of self-control. Why is it that we must have sex whenever we want it? We recognize the need for self control in other parts of our lives – why not our sexual lives?

The result of her efforts, I believe, will lead to a further breakdown of the family in other parts of the world as has happened in the US. Not everything that the US has provided to other countries has been good, and – in this case – I think we are doing more to harm these particular societies than we are to help them.

Think of the double-speak that exists in this particular situation. Here we are telling those in third world countries that your lives would be better if there were just fewer of you. To me this is insulting and degrading to those this program is professed to help. Nancy Pelosi once stated that:

“Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children’s health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those – one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.”

Mrs. Gates is right along there with her. Very sad.

St. John the Baptist and Religious Freedom

Today is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, otherwise known as the Jesus’ cousin and the man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Today is also the first Sunday of ‘Fortnight for Freedom‘, the two week period of prayer, study, catechesis and action regarding the threats to religious freedom. How fitting that the Feast of St. John the Baptist would be celebrated during this Fortnight as St. John the Baptist epitomized the importance of religious freedom and what can happen when an all too powerful government dictates what may and may not be acceptable in terms of religious expression.

St. John the Baptist was first described to us when Mary first goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, upon courageously and obediently saying ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel when he tells her that she has been chosen by God to bear His son. In Luke, we are told

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

The baby to which the passage refers is Elizabeth’s son, John. We learn from various writings that John was a bold man who preached the truth. He lived as a hermit in the desert and was known to be somewhat eccentric. Some time around his thirtieth birthday, he began to preach fervently about the importance of penance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin – even baptizing Jesus. His following grew and grew and was a great threat to Herod Antipas. John was never one to shy away from truth and honesty – and never one to be quiet about sharing this in a very public way. As such, John spoke openly against the adulterous and incestuous marriage of Herod to Herodias, the wife of Herod’s half brother Philip. Herod had John arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against him. John’s life ended at the wish of Herodias’ daughter, Salome, who requested his head be served on a platter to her mother.

While the conditions of St. John the Baptist’s death differ from the threats to religious liberty we face today, there are similarities that can be drawn here in the US and along the lines of what Christians around the world – particularly in the Middle East – face as a result of publicly expressing religion. St. John the Baptist told the truth about Herod and Herodias. Herod didn’t arrest St. John the Baptist only because of what he said, he did so because Herod was a threat to his power and St. John the Baptist had an ever-growing ministry of followers who turned toward truth and honesty and disavowed corruption.

The recent HHS Mandate in the United States which requires that individuals, companies, hospitals – and everyone other than a Church – pay for and provide health insurance plans that cover the free distribution of contraception, as well as include coverage for sterilization and abortion inducing drugs. The only organizations exempt from this mandate are organizations that serve ONLY people of their own religion. The US Council of Catholic Bishops noted that even Jesus wouldn’t qualify for exemption under the requirements as outlined by the Department of Health and Human Services.

As a result of this mandate, 43 different religious organizations have filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (ironically, headed up by a professed pro-abortion Catholic, Kathleen Sebelius). Many believe the lawsuits are about contraception – but they aren’t. The lawsuits seek to argue that the Department of HHS steps beyond the bounds of the US Constitution by declaring the definition of ‘religious expression’. The US Constitution States:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The First Amendment declares is that a) Congress may not establish a religion (keep in mind what had been happening in England at the time the colonists left to settle the United States) and, equally important, b) that Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. The second part of the statement is extremely broad and what the current lawsuits are using as a basis to fight the Obama Administration and the Department of HHS. Perhaps the best example describing this violation is Marc Barnes’ description he provided here:

The free exercise of religion is violated both by what you take away from a religion, and by what you force a religion to do. If members of a religion are forced by the government to perform actions contrary to their beliefs, they are no more free than dogs.

The second part of his first sentence is key – you violate the free exercise of religion not only by what you take away but always what you FORCE THEM TO DO. In this case, religious freedom is being violated by forcing individuals and organizations to pay for and offer products and services (purchased from a private entity!) against which they have a moral obligation.

Thankfully, we have a court system in the United States against which we can file a grievance and hopefully resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. Following the news in the Middle East and Northern Africa, one can see that we are truly blessed to live in a civil democracy in which religious freedom is, for the most part, respected. We must pray during this Fortnight for Freedom that we continue to be blessed with religious freedom and that our brothers and sisters here in the US understand the importance of awareness and action in keeping our religious freedom safe. We must also pray for the expansion of religious freedom to those Christians currently persecuted and dying as a result of the expression of their religion.

We can all benefit from taking a moment to asking St. John the Baptist to intercede on our behalf for an expansion of religious freedom around the world, as well as a strengthening of religious freedom here in the US. After all, St. John the Baptist knew first hand what happens when the government is free to dictate the definition of freedom of expression.

The importance of consequences.

There has been much to read in the news recently about pro-life efforts taking place in the US and around the world. One of the things that reading this news online provides is the opportunity to observe a bit of a ‘social barometer’ in reading the associated comments made by readers. Of course, the general leaning of the comments will depend on many things – where the article has been published, from where it has been linked etc… In any event, the comments themselves make for fascinating reading and provide interesting insight into why people believe the things that they do.

What struck me recently was that in the great majority of comments I read from the pro-choice side there was a seeming lack of understanding that sexual behavior would result in the possible outcome of pregnancy. Does this mean that I believe that those who favor abortion don’t understand the biomechanics of sexual behavior? No. I’m not saying that. But there seemed to be a lack of willingness to accept that actions have consequences.

The arguments presented repeatedly were based on the idea that one must have the right to abort their unborn child because it was their body etc… There are comments after comments about the Catholic Church being evil in its trying to control women and how dare they tell women they shouldn’t use artificial contraception. The list of arguments as to why women must have the right to do whatever they want must not be hindered by anyone.

What appeared to be missing in any of the logic provided was the basic and fundamental idea that if one is to engage in sexual activity, the possible outcome is the creation of a new life through pregnancy. Our fifth grade daughter’s class just had a four day session at school regarding ‘responsible social behavior’ and I know that schools across the United States offer these classes, so it would be hard to argue that women aren’t aware of this concept.

This isn’t an awareness issue, its an issue of whether or not we wish to accept, as a society, that our actions have consequences. We have given ourselves a false sense of security by believing that by using artificial birth control varying in effectiveness from 70% – 98% that we will be in that range of success and that the failure rates won’t apply to us. *We* are in control – or so we believe. As someone who practices Natural Family Planning, I tell people who question my sanity for that choice that the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP is 99% successful when practiced properly. I know, however, that the 99% is not 100% and that I could very well be the 1%. I am willing to accept that fact and understand that the only 100% method of birth control is abstinence.

Who are we kidding? Ourselves.

It has been reported that roughly 54% of women who seek abortions report that they were using some form of birth control at the time they conceived. The same study indicated that 46% were not using birth control – and of those, 33% thought they were at ‘low risk’ for pregnancy. So 54% believed that the ‘success rate’ of their method of birth control – though less than 100% actually was 100% for them.

Its as though we have forgotten or refused to believe that the 1% ‘failure’ rate of the most effective forms of birth control – or 30% ‘failure’ rate of some of the least effective forms – results in the ‘failure’ by producing a child. We have become so focused on numbers and statistics that we forget that the risk we take is the risk of of the gift of producing a new life.

At what point did we, as a society, lose sight of the consequences of our actions? Or, did we? We tell our children not to drink and drive because it might result in our getting in an accident and killing ourselves and/or others. We are even warning young people and even adults about the idea of driving just ‘slightly buzzed’. We tell our children not to do drugs because drugs alter our minds and result in lower productivity and that continued use may result in the possibility of addiction. In other words, we share with our children the consequences of a particular action. Why is it, then that we give our children the idea that sexual activity is okay and acceptable provided it is done ‘responsibly’ which involves the use of artificial contraception. Again, ‘responsibly’ doesn’t mean that its 100% fool-proof – and the ‘failure’ rate results in pregnancy.

In looking at the abstinence only success rates versus comprehensive sexual education I came across this quote:

Unlike smoking, which is always bad for you, sexual behavior is a basic human need which can be a positive experience — although it requires maturity and responsibility – Michael McGee, VP Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America

 

The quote is absurd because it overlooks the idea that people smoke because it can be a ‘positive experience’ in how it makes you feel. The argument made by Mr. McGee is that ‘kids are already doing it so we better tell them how to be responsible about it’. Kids are already drinking underage and doing drugs too… so let’s just tell them its okay and hope that they are responsible about it? We all know how responsible the average 15 year old is right – especially when it comes to decisions that can vastly affect the direction of one’s life? I, too, was young once and recall that drinking and drugs are also ‘positive experiences’ for young people too. Sex isn’t ‘bad’ for you – he’s right. But he overlooks the most obvious and known consequence of all just as, it seems, the rest of society has in that intercourse was designed by nature to result in reproduction of the species.

‘What does some old man who in Rome who has never been married know?’

Apparently, a lot. Consider this statement by Pope Paul VI regarding the widespread use of artificial contraception:

“Careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”

Keep in mind that this was written over 40 years ago. I have to admit that I haven’t yet read Humane Vitae – perhaps its time. Very powerful.

Who *really* cares about women?

As I convert, I have had the benefit of learning about my faith as an adult. This has awarded me many opportunities to reflect on what it all really means and see things in a more complex fashion that the basic catechesis one receives as a child. One of the realizations I’ve had is that, at the heart of it, Catholics really are the true hippies. I’ll write more about this later because I think its a fascinating topic. But, for now – I’ll focus on just the ‘natural’ part of the Catholics as hippies discussion which looks at the idea of the Catholic Church respecting the laws of nature – so much so that they encourage women to avoid contaminating their body with synthetic hormones that are intended to knock nature out of whack.

The idea behind natural family planning isn’t a mechanism to control women – its actually quite the opposite as it puts women in control of their bodies and works with nature to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. In a nutshell, the Catholic Church believes that the act of intimacy between a woman and a man is intended, based on scipture, to be intended for the purpose of procreation. God repeatedly noted that man was to ‘be fruitful’. He didn’t indicate that man was to go out and have fun with their bodies, but not worry about the potential outcomes. He was pretty clear right from the get go. That aside, the Catholic Church believes that in order to follow God’s intent to ‘be fruitful’ that there mustn’t be an artificial barrier between a man and a woman during their intimate acts as it directly contradicts God’s will.

Many will mistakenly say ‘The Catholic Church doesn’t allow for the use of contraception because they want women to be pregnant all the time.’ This is also not true. The Catholic Church acknowledges and recognizes that there are circumstances which present themselves preventing a married couple from having child after child after child after child and gives these families an option – natural family planning.

The idea behind natural family planning is that a woman works with her own body – designed by perfection in nature, God himself – in order to recognize the periods of fertility each month and allows her the opportunity to either abstain from intimacy during this time in order to avoid pregnancy or to seek out intimacy with her husband during this time in order that they may try and achieve pregnancy. The beauty of natural family planning is that its not only effective – 99-100% when practiced properly (that last part is key!), but that a woman’s body gives her not one, not two, but three physical signs that she can follow in order to determine her peak period of fertility. And guess what – no carcinogenic synthetic hormones required! Nor is she or her husband required to bring latex objects into their intimacy. Nor is she or her husband required to be permanently or semi-permanently sterilized contradicting the laws of nature and the way the body was intended to function.

I wrote a fair bit about why I love natural family planning here, and I fear I’m veering off in that direction. Let me come back to the goal of this piece in its discussion regarding who *really* cares about women’s health issues.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, its hard to not know that there has been a battle with regard to religious liberty regarding the HHS contraception mandate whereby the HHS has decided that *all* health insurance plans under the Affordable Health Care Act offer contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs to be provided FREE by health insurance companies – regardless of whether it violates an individual’s, employer’s, or health insurance company’s moral beliefs to offer or pay for such products/services. We could get into a discussion about how the HHS is proposing that insurance companies pay for this using pixie dust or unicorn poop since the way an insurance company receives income is through health insurance premiums which would be required to be paid for by every living and breathing US resident (or be fined), but we’ll save that for another discussion.

The idea here is that, as noted, these products/services would be provided ‘for free’. Let’s breakdown what the Department of HHS is proposing to provide for women and look at the health risks associated with each of those products/services.

The Birth Control Pill

The ‘Pill’ elevates the levels of estrogen and progestin in a woman’s body to mimic pregnancy. As such, it prevents the body from ovulating, but also helps to prevent pregnancy in other ways.

Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors. The hormonal contraceptive usually stops the body from releasing an egg from the ovary. Hormonal contraceptives also change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to find an egg. Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent pregnancy by making the lining of the womb inhospitable for implantation.

So while the intention is for the pill to prevent ovulation, there is also the possibility that it acts as an abortifacient in that it prevents a fertilized egg (i.e. a life that has been conceived) from implanting itself in the lining of the womb and instead being flushed out of the uterus. How many women currently taking the pill do you think know that the pill works in this fashion? How many women currently taking the pill do you think have been told that the pill works in this fashion?

The pill is so wonderful that it causes the following side effects (I know these first hand as I was a birth control pill user a long long time ago):

  • nausea
  • weight gain
  • tender or swollen breasts
  • smaller amount of blood during periods
  • spotting between periods
  • mood changes

And if you are one of the lucky women (like me!) who has a family history of things like heart disease, high blood pressure, smoke etc… then your doctor will either advise against prescribing the pill OR monitor you very closely. Taking the pill seriously impacts your body and the natural rythym as intended by nature. What happens when we mess with nature? Any environmentalist will tell you that when you add or modify the laws of nature – things change and not always for the better.

There are cases in which the Pill can be helpful as a form of hormone therapy for women with certain conditions – its not this use that I believe is harmful, but rather the idea that we must transform our bodies through the use of synthetic hormones as the only way to prevent pregnancy. Is this ‘freedom’ and ‘empowerment’?

The National Cancer Institute suggests that

A 1996 analysis of worldwide epidemiologic data conducted by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer found that women who were current or recent users of birth control pills had a slightly elevated risk of developing breast cancer. The risk was highest for women who started using OCs as teenagers.

Yes, the same study notes that the risk is reduced back to a ‘normal’ level some 10 years after they stop. But is this healthy? There are surgeons out there who believe that the risk is  far higher:

To show just how much of a threat the pill posed to young women, Lanfranchi pointed to several statistics, including a 2006 Mayo Clinic meta-analysis that concluded that breast cancer risk rises 50 percent for women taking oral contraceptives four or more years before a full-term pregnancy. In 2009, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that women starting the pill before 18 nearly quadruple their risk of triple negative breast cancer. Even more shocking, Swedish oncologist Hakan Olsson concluded that pill use before the age of 20 increases a young woman’s breast cancer risk by more than 1000 percent.

 

“It’s like you took this molotov cocktail of a group one carcinogen and threw it into that young girl’s breast,” said Lanfranchi. “Is this child abuse?”

Or what about this

Studies have consistently shown that using OCs reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. In a 1992 analysis of 20 studies of OC use and ovarian cancer, researchers from Harvard Medical School found that the risk of ovarian cancer decreased with increasing duration of OC use. Results showed a 10 to 12 percent decrease in risk after 1 year of use, and approximately a 50 percent decrease after 5 years of use.

And the risk of cervical cancer also increases:

Evidence shows that long-term use of OCs (5 or more years) may be associated with an increased risk of cancer of the cervix (the narrow, lower portion of the uterus) (12). Although OC use may increase the risk of cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) is recognized as the major cause of this disease. Approximately 14 types of HPV have been identified as having the potential to cause cancer, and HPVs have been found in 99 percent of cervical cancer biopsy specimens worldwide. More information about HPV and cancer is available in Human Papillomaviruses and Cancer: Questions and Answers athttp://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/risk/HPV on the Internet.

 

A 2003 analysis by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found an increased risk of cervical cancer with longer use of OCs. Researchers analyzed data from 28 studies that included 12,531 women with cervical cancer. The data suggested that the risk of cervical cancer may decrease after OC use stops. In another IARC report, data from eight studies were combined to assess the effect of OC use on cervical cancer risk in HPV-positive women. Researchers found a fourfold increase in risk among women who had used OCs for longer than 5 years. Risk was also increased among women who began using OCs before age 20 and women who had used OCs within the past 5 years. The IARC is planning a study to reanalyze all data related to OC use and cervical cancer risk.

The bottom line is that there *is* a risk for an increased chance of cancer while taking the pill – particularly when the woman taking the pill starts at an early age. Given the statistics regarding young women starting to take the pill in their teenage years and being on it for an extended period through their early twenties, there is the concern that we are knowingly increasing the risk of cancer in these young women.

Sterilization

Studies indicate that the risk of cancer is reduced with sterilization, but there are risks associated with the medical procedure for both men and women.

Abortifacients

Abortifacients are either medications that either prevent implantation or induce abortion, or objects placed in the uterus which – many believe – prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. There have been numerous lawsuits filed in relation to use of many of these different drugs/products.

Moving along, let’s know look at news (quietly) released just this week (where *is* all the media surrounding this new recommendation?) regarding what is likely and isn’t likely to be covered under the ‘basic’ health insurance as defined by the Department of HHS.

While Pap smears remain an essential part of cervical cancer prevention, new guidelines discourage the once-a-year screenings that have been a part of women’s health for years.

 

New recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services,  state that women who are 21 to 29 years old only need a Pap smear every three years. And those under the age of 21 do not need a Pap smear at all, regardless of  sexual history.

 

And healthy women age between the ages of 30 and 65 need a Pap smear only  every five years  if they combine it with a test for human papillomavirus, or HPV,  which can develop into cervical cancer.

Would this be the same ‘Preventive Services Task Force’ which has declared that women *should* receive free birth control – particularly the ‘Group One Carcinogen‘ type? The definition of a ‘Group One Carcinogen’ is

Group 1: The agent (mixture) is carcinogenic to humans. The exposure circumstance entails exposures that are carcinogenic to humans.

So we’ve now let a panel of ‘preventative’ experts suggest that the frequency of cervical pap smears be reduced to once every three years and woman over 30 every FIVE years. I hate to admit it, but I’m in the every five years crowd – and I’ve read that ‘if caught early, it can be cured’. How early is ‘early’? If I have my pap smear and develop the cancer – let’s say – a year afterward and don’t get another pap for four more years, will that be ‘early’ enough?

If I have this correctly, the Catholic Church – which wants you to feel free to space your pregnancies and is willing to educate you on the three ways to listen to your body in order to do so resulting in the same efficiency as pumping yourself with synthetic Class One Carcinogen hormones, but without the side effects is ‘in a war against women’. But the Department of HHS which will likely see that your insurance only covers a pap smear once every couple of years in spite of the fact that they’ve given you the free Class One Carcinogen synthetic hormones to prevent those pesky diseases called ‘pregnancy’ cares about you?

The list of promises broken is getting longer…

So far we have found out that all of the ‘promises’ made by President Obama to mindful of conscience protection have been nothing more than empty promises. Time and time again we have been lied to, such as here, and here, and here, and here (or here if you believe that Doctors are taking fewer private insurance patients), and also here. And now, this.

Nestled within the “individual mandate” in the Obamacare act — that portion of the Act requiring every American to purchase government — approved insurance or pay a penalty — is an “abortion premium mandate.” This mandate requires all persons enrolled in insurance plans that include elective abortion coverage to pay a separate premium from their own pockets to fund abortion.  As a result, many pro-life Americans will have to decide between a plan that violates their consciences by funding abortion, or a plan that may not meet their health needs.

At what point does the American public acknowledge that they’ve been lied to – repeatedly.

Why I love Natural Family Planning.

As a follow up to the story on why I stand behind the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and over 2000 other religious leaders in the US regarding the violation of religious liberty in requiring insurers offer ALL insurance plans provide for contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs – hence forcing those who object to violate their religious beliefs in being forced to pay for such products and services – it seemed an appropriate time to discuss the ‘why’ behind Natural Family Planning (NFP).

Let me provide a little background before I get started, because I didn’t always feel this way about NFP. Years ago, before I converted to the Catholic faith, my husband and I attended a daylong seminar entitled something along the lines of ‘Heavenly Sex’ (for true!). It was offered by the Archdiocese of New Orleans (also for true!) and it seemed an interesting topic for a talk. Honestly, I had *no* idea what would be discussed but the title was intriguing. We spent the day with roughly 200 other couples listening to a Priest discuss the Theology of the Body. This was the first I’d heard of this particular Theology, but my eyes were opened – and wide.

I had been previously unaware that the ‘old and stagnant’ Roman Catholic Church had been headed by a Pope – John Paul II – who had made it a mission as part of his Papacy to bring to the surface the teachings of the Church as it pertained to human sexuality. His ‘Theology of the Body’ teachings had been encapsulated in 129 general audiences in which he walked through each and every aspect of humanity and its relation to sexuality. This was fascinating news to me and it changed my entire perspective on understanding the Church’s position on marriage, birth control, sterilization and abortion.

In a nutshell, it confirmed for me the intention of the act of intimacy between a husband and wife to be to produce offspring. Does this mean that it can’t be enjoyed? Not at all – quite the opposite. In fact, medical studies have shown that those attempting to become pregnant fare better when they fully participate and are engaged. Coincidence, I think not. To summarize, the Church teaches that artificial contraception is an attempt to ‘override’ God’s will and to define one’s own destiny. While I was enlightened as to the ‘why’ behind the teachings, I still was in the ‘my will be done’ headspace and not ‘thy will be done’ and couldn’t cross the hurdle into the world of Natural Family Planning.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and this proves to be the case over and over in my life. Fast forward a few years and beyond the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) where I learned more and more about the history and teachings of the Church and the subsequent discernment process I underwent to be confirmed into the Catholic Church. Entering into the Catholic Church meant that I would enter into the Church as a full and complete participant believing *all* of the teachings of the Church. I struggled somewhat along the way with the idea of transubstantiation, but had a beautiful experience that sealed the deal for me.

Those who know me know that I am a ‘rule follower’ but I am not a ‘blind’ rule follower. I read, I study, and I struggle to understand in order that I can say ‘yes, I am willing to follow those rules because I believe in them’. This was a requirement for me in being confirmed into the Church. Of course, the rules said that the marital act I was to share with my husband would require me to be ‘open to the possibility of conception’. Don’t think I didn’t question the idea of artificial contraception. I spent a long time in discussion with a Catholic Doctor arguing the idea that since no form of artificial contraception had a 100% success rate, wasn’t I then also being ‘open to the possibility of conception’. He explained to me that the difference was between the ‘artificial’ and the ‘natural’. By placing a ‘barrier’ – either literal or in the form of drugs – I was closing myself off to God’s will. Okay, he got me and I understood. I still, however, struggled.

It wasn’t long after this that a friend was discussing her own experience with NFP and the ‘why’ behind it for her. She summed it up beautifully:

As a Catholic am I willing to say ‘God, I trust you in all aspects of my life – except this one.’

This absolutely encapsulated it for me and I was convinced. Nervous, but convinced.

My husband and I attended NFP classes given by the Couple to Couple League. We were one of roughly a dozen couples in the class and, surprisingly, not the oldest (we were the second oldest). Our instructors were a lovely couple who had four children and been practicing NFP for over 20 years and it had been 20 years since the birth of their last child. It would be hard to argue, with four children, that their ‘success’ rate in preventing a pregnancy for over 20 years had been a result of fertility issues.

We learned the sympto-thermal method in which you would chart three different symptoms to monitor your monthly fertility cycle: your temperature, your mucous, and your cervix. As a type A personality, I liked that idea of not being reliant on only one aspect to trust where you were in your cycle. One of the first things that we were taught was that this method is 99% effective WHEN PRACTICED PROPERLY. That last part is highlighted because I hear over and over and over – ‘I know so many couples who got pregnant while practicing NFP’. There are several NFP methods and the couples I know who got pregnant all admit to not practicing it ‘to a t’.

We began our journey charting and, at first, it seemed like a nuisance. After a very short while, however, it became a part of my daily routine – as natural as brushing my teeth or getting dressed in the morning. I realized that the entire ‘process’ took me all of one minute of my day. Aside from the minimal effort required on my part, my husband took an active role in actually being the one to note the items on our chart so that he also played a part and the onus wasn’t just on me to keep track of everything. The respect and care he showed for me by partaking in this was was entirely unique to this particular method and I began to really appreciate this aspect of our marriage.

His role would expand, however, in that NFP works by identifying your most fertile period of the month. Couples who employ NFP to space pregnancies must – egads! – abstain from intimate relations during this brief period of their cycle. I know, I know… this doesn’t fit in with our ‘anytime, anywhere, anyhow’ instant gratification model of society – why ever would one want to do THAT? To look at this phase of the fertility cycle in that way is to minimize the impact it can have on a marriage and a man’s respect for his wife – and even her respect for her husband – in overlooking the restraint they must exhibit if they wish to avoid pregnancy. Generally speaking, this phase of one’s fertility cycle lasts roughly five days. To suggest that one cannot go without being sexually engaged for five days is downright insulting to any member of the human species.

For our marriage, this method is a respect for natural law in which the act of intimacy is intended for procreation and a willingness to accept God’s will. I know many, who when I told them of our plans to employ NFP in our marriage, placed bets on how quickly I would become pregnant. Its been almost three years and so far – 100% effective!

The beautiful thing about NFP is that its just what it says it is – ‘Natural’. I am not pumping my body with class one carcinogenic synthetic hormones by way of the birth control pill making my body think its pregnant for years on end. As an aside, I did try the pill long long ago and learned very quickly how bad it is for your body when I experienced practically every side effect they had listed on the box. NFP doesn’t require that I walk around with a foul looking insert into my uterus to prevent pregnancy or cause spontaneous abortions by creating a hostile environment in which a fertilized egg cannot implant itself into the lining of my uterus. NFP doesn’t require that my husband and I have a latex barrier between us – wow, *that’s* romantic! NFP doesn’t require that I *never* be open to another child by undergoing tubal ligation or having my husband undergo a vasectomy. Having said all that, my intent is in no way to criticize those who choose any of those paths. I know that none of those are for our marriage.

NFP requires that my husband and I *work* together and that we respect natural law. It provides us with a mutual respect that we didn’t have prior to engaging in NFP and a complete openness toward one another. As time has progressed, it has become entirely ‘natural’ for us and my love for its methods and philosophy has grown tremendously. On  a side note, NFP has also proven to be very effective as a method of achieving pregnancy. NAPRO technology has an even higher effective rate than in-vitro fertilization.

Incidentally, it costs nothing – well, virtually nothing. All we need is a thermometer, a pen/pencil, and paper. That’s it. Oh – and a little self control now and then.

Gendercide… and not in the third world.

In the third world we see a rash of abortions based on the sex of the baby. Girls = abortion. After the babies are born and the couples find that they are a girl, many times the babies are given up for adoption, killed, or simply abandoned and left to die.

Countries make laws making selective sex abortions illegal, but the laws are nothing more than ways to say ‘Well, we’re really trying to have this not happen.’ and somehow have ourselves feel good about our efforts when in reality we know there is absolutely no way to stop it. Doctors don’t enforce it and its all too easy to lie about the ‘why’ behind the abortion. How? Get your ultrasound, find out its a girl, and then go to a Doctor and tell them you simply cannot afford the baby. Is anyone going to follow up and find out that you knew that it was a girl? Is anyone going to care? No on both counts.

‘We’ve done a great thing by legalizing and encouraging abortion – right?’ Wrong. And those who are suffering are, by and large, female babies. This says nothing of the 80% of pregnancies terminated as a result of a positive result for Down Syndrome.

Is this what feminists wanted?

In the third world, unwanted baby girls ‘disappear’. It’s called gendercide. And it’s happening in this country, too

Let's just get this out of the way, shall we?

It seemed as though now is as good a time as any to address the elephant in the living room. Like anyone who has a sense of what’s happening in this country – but particularly Catholics, I’ve been following the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate situation very closely. Like most, I’ve been appalled – but not surprised – at the media mischaracterization of the objection of not only each and every Catholic Bishop in the United States (yes, we’re up to 100% now!) but also roughly 2500 other Christian and Jewish leaders too. It seemed a good time as any to debunk the media misrepresentation and general misunderstanding of the general public as it relates to this issue.

First, to clarify – the HHS mandate will require that each and every health insurance plan offered by each and every insurance company provide coverage for contraception (this includes class one carcinogen birth control pills and IUDs), sterilization (this includes tubal litigation and vasectomies), and abortion inducing drugs (this includes drugs such as RU-486 - which is made by the Roussel Uclaf who is in turn owned by Hoescht AG, formerly known as IG Farben who made Zyklon B and conducted medical experiments for the Nazis – and Ella). Because each and every plan is required to cover these products and services – at *no* cost to the person being insured – each and every resident in the United States will be required to pay for these services regardless of whether or not they a) need them b) use them or c) find them morally objectionable. This isn’t just about religious entities, this applies to everyone residing in the United States. The overall health insurance mandate requires that every individual carry health insurance or pay a fine, so outside of objecting to the mandate by paying the fine and not being covered – there is no ‘choice’ for those individuals, religious entities or even companies who find these products morally objectionable. The only choice that exists is a) pay for coverage and put your conscience aside or b) pay a fine and not be covered (which leaves us pretty much where we are today with people losing their homes and lives being bankrupted by skyrocketing health care costs).

Let’s set aside, for the time being, the argument as to whether or not one believes that the Church and others should or shouldn’t believe in the moral objections of contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs because the issue at hand isn’t one’s beliefs, but rather the idea of whether or not the government has the right to do the following:

  1. mandate that an individual or business entity purchase a particular product in the private marketplace using their private purchasing power
  2. mandate that an individual or business entity purchase a particular product in the private marketplace using their private purchasing power to which they have a moral objection based on religious beliefs

The Department of Health and Human Services has states that the reason for this mandate is that it is ‘less expensive to prevent an illness than to treat it.’ The first glaring issue with this particular mandate is that the Department of Health and Human Services is classifying pregnancy as an ‘illness’. I’m pretty sure that I speak for every mother out there when I say that – even at the moments I have been most frustrated with my children – I have NEVER thought of my children as diseases to be cured. Moving beyond that glaringly obnoxious categorization as declared by the HHS, there are a number of inconsistencies with this argument.

The first inconsistency is that insurers have come out since the contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drug mandate (‘You keep using that lengthy term – why?’ – because this isn’t just a contraception issue as the media would want you to believe) and indicated that they are unable to provide contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs at no co-pay or cost to clients without recouping the cost elsewhere. Contrary to the belief of the Dept of HHS, insurers do not a) have a money tree in the backyard upon which they can pick continually regenerating supplies of cash to pay for services b) have a deal with providers of the aforementioned services and drugs to receive them for free (hence, doctors and drug companies are also lacking the money tree in the backyard) and c) are also not able to pay for these services and drugs by way of Unicorn droppings. Here’s a big lesson in life – ‘Nothing in life is free, ‘free’ only means that someone else is paying for it.’ With that in mind, we know that the insurers will cover the costs the only way that they know how – by rolling the costs into the premiums charged to their customers. Who are those customers? Ultimately, you and I (‘But wait – my company pays my insurance – not me.’ – True, but the insurance they pay is part of your compensation package and is related to the company employing you. Indirectly, its the company using money allocated to ‘you’.). As such, the so-called ‘accommodation’ by the White House is really an indication of how stupid they think the general public is by trying to tell them – ‘No, you won’t be paying but the insurance companies will.’ making the accommodation an insult to the intelligence of the voting population.

The second inconsistency is that by doing this the insurance companies save money. The average cost of ‘treating’ a pregnancy is $7500. The average annual cost of the birth control pill is $600. If a woman is on the pill for the majority of her child-bearing years (18-40), it would cost the insurance company roughly $13200 for the cost of her contraception. And this is a cost savings how?

A third and most glaring inconsistency is in what the Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t tell you about the fact that the birth control pill with its doses of synthetic hormones is considered a class one carcinogen. This means that it presents a risk in increased instances of certain types of cancers.

modifies slightly the risk of cancer, increasing it in some sites (cervix, breast, liver), decreasing it in others (endometrium, ovary).

Yes… it does decrease some cancers, but did the HHS factor in the cost of treating cervix, breast and liver cancer in their overall cost savings to the insurers because I’m willing to bet that chemotherapy, radiation and extended hospital stays are not inexpensive as are mammograms etc…

Finally, there is an even more obvious and glaring inconsistency in the HHS mandate. We are told that it is a ‘cost saving’ measure. Given that there were roughly 4.1 million babies born in the US last year and the average cost of ‘treating’ that pregnancy was $7500 we can ascertain that the cost of delivering those babies totaled $30.8 billion. Its hard to find statistics on the money spent on birth control pills alone in the United States, but a NYTimes article referring to the sale of Bayer’s ‘Yaz’ pill noted that at $616m a year in sales it represented 18% of the marketplace of the pill which puts the total market at roughly $1.2 billion. Of course, that number doesn’t include the cost of sterilizations and abortion inducing drugs. But, we can determine the that government wants to ‘save’ insurers roughly $26b per year (if we assume that the cost of all services and products to be provided for ‘free’ total $4b per year). Is it a savings? Yes. Will it be ‘free’? No. But if its all about cost savings then why didn’t the HHS mention the annual costs to insurers associated with obesity? According to the CDC, in 2008 we spent roughly $147b per year on obesity and obesity related illnesses here in the US. Our obesity rates are on the rise so we can assume that this amount is higher today and we are less than four years later.

If the HHS was truly concerned about ‘saving’ money for the insurers, wouldn’t they want to help target the health care costs of obesity? $26b may be a lot of money saved by not having to deliver those pesky little ‘diseases’, but if we could lower the obesity rate we could save up to $147b. $147b is larger than $26b right? So why not implement mandates that would target obesity?

Consider this idea… what if when you went grocery shopping, you were required to purchase – at a minimum – foods that would provide your family with a perfectly balanced meal plan for the week. You could purchase products you wished to have, but you would need to purchase the ‘healthy’ items first. We would all carry a card that would track our purchases that would need to be presented at the check out with each purchase and it would have a record of our purchases. If you’d purchased the healthy quota for the week, then you could purchase the yummy stuff – if not, you’d need to buy the remainder of the healthy stuff before you could purchase the Coca-Cola, the chips, the chocolate bars etc… If you didn’t like the food you were required to buy, that’s okay – you wouldn’t have to eat it. You could, if you wanted, leave it in a large bin outside the store that would pick up food and take it to the homeless. If you didn’t want to purchase these items, you could pay a fine and then be free to purchase the items you wished to purchase. Wouldn’t this help combat obesity?

‘Wait a minute. You can’t tell people what they have to buy!’ – you exclaim. Why not? That’s exactly what the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate says. It says that anyone – because of the mere fact that they are living breathing human beings residing in the United States – must carry health insurance with a minimum of coverage as outlined by the HHS. Keep in mind that the overall insurance mandate exists because the government knows that by legislating that insurance companies are no longer able to restrict based on pre-existing conditions and people will not pay for the insurance until they get sick – it forces them to buy in and cover the costs. Hence, they are requiring everyone to purchase a pre-defined government product from a private enterprise. Isn’t this ultimately the same as the grocery store example? The products you would purchase from the grocery store would be pre-defined by the government and purchased from a private enterprise. Seem far-fetched? Not really. Health insurance is now mandated by the government and we need food to survive, so the grocery store example is actually *less* invasive because they don’t mandate that you go to the grocery store, they just say ‘if you do… you will purchase this’ in an attempt to promote healthy eating in the United States and to save money.

Keep in mind that all of this ruckus over the contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs issue could have been avoided if the HHS had simply offered two basic plans: one with the objectionable services and one without. Why didn’t they do that? Simple, the premiums would be higher for the one *with* the objectionable services (remember, insurers need to recoup the cost somewhere and the Unicorn poop just wouldn’t cover it) and people would figure out that they were, in fact, paying for these services after all. Insurers and the HHS need everyone to pay premiums in order to offset the increased cost of providing services for ‘free’.

I recently saw a quote that said:

If what happens in your bedroom is none of my business, then please don’t make me pay for your supplies or consequences.

Thought that quote provided a little levity and honesty in an otherwise heavy discussion.

In reading several pieces about the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate, I came across a piece by Marc John Paul at ‘Bad Catholic’ in his ‘Open letter to Barack Obama Concerning Recent Tyranny‘. Marc John Paul is an 18 year old Catholic man who is wise beyond his years. He raises several wonderful points regarding the exercise of religious freedom and is extremely articulate. Perhaps one of the most significant points he makes is that this mandate is extremely insulting to women:

I know our world is idiotic and sexist to the point of the embarrassing belief that women cannot prevent pregnancy without pills, but as it turns out, they can. In fact, if you’re a woman reading this, chances are you’re preventing pregnancy right now. (If not, rethink your sex life.) Thus a health-care provider not providing free access to artificial contraception does not damn women to pregnancy — oh, the horror — any more than not providing diet-pills would damn them to obesity.

Let’s clarify one point he makes above to counter the misleading media representation – the objection to the mandate is NOT the Catholic Church or anyone of the 2500 religious leaders of the US trying to restrict access to birth control for anyone. To date, over 90% of women have reported that they have had access to birth control when trying to prevent a pregnancy. This isn’t about access to birth control and an attempt to restrict it in any way – its about individuals saying ‘That’s fine if you want to use it, but please don’t make me pay for it.’ Right now roughly 90% of insurance plans cover it, but the fact is that with this mandate no one will have a choice any longer as to whether they choose to cover it or not.

Finally, as this mandate pertains to religious freedom – the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drug mandate clearly flies in the face of the US Constitution. The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

If the government will not permit me to ‘opt out’ of paying for drugs and services against which my religion has a clearly defined moral objection – how is government *not* ‘prohibiting the free exercise thereof’? Quakers are not required to serve in the military as it violates their religious beliefs. The Amish are entirely exempt from carrying any health insurance and even Muslims may also find themselves exempt from the overall insurance mandate – both based on religious beliefs. The same individuals, however, are not will to recognize my religious beliefs and that of millions across the country. The Fourteenth Amendment provides ‘equal protection under the law’. If we are willing to allow for the exemptions based on some religious beliefs, but not others – aren’t we then allowing our government to violate the Fourteenth Amendment by allowing for religious discrimination?

I will continue to pray that those of us who believe that these products and services are morally objectionable will be given the choice to not have to pay for them as part of our health insurance. If allowed to stand, it sets a precedent in allowing for the government to mandate any product be required to be purchased by individuals from private entities. I hear the sales of Chevy Volts have been dwindling, perhaps we could mandate that every family making over $170k purchase one of those next!

Today’s writing wasn’t exactly ‘Lent’ related… but I did want to get it out there as it pertains to religious liberty in the US and it does help open the door as to further writing as to why I believe in Natural Family Planning as a viable family planning method.

God Bless.