More contraception? At what cost?

New protocol allows Colorado pharmacists to prescribe the pill without patients' physician

Therese Bussen

Access to birth control is about to get a whole lot easier for Colorado at the peril of women’s health, according to Catholic healthcare specialists.

After a bipartisan bill passed last year allowing the boards of medicine, nursing and pharmacy, in conjunction with the state health department, to create protocols that address public health needs, the first initiative to roll out will allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control to patients without their physician.

Simply by filling out a questionnaire, doing a blood pressure test and having a 10-15 minute consultation to ensure the patient is not already pregnant or suffering from other health conditions that would make taking the pill unsafe, oral contraceptives can be prescribed.

The protocol will go into effect sometime this spring once pharmacists are trained, according to the Denver Post. Colorado is the third state, after California and Oregon, to pass this initiative.

Dede Chism, executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care, a healthcare clinic specializing in women’s health and fertility, stated that this protocol goes against “best practice.”

“Bella Natural Women’s Care takes a more natural and healthy approach…we do not prescribe or refer patients for artificial contraception,” Chism said. “One important reason for this is the many physical and emotional side effects that accompany the use of artificial contraception.”

“Contraceptive medications, whether they be oral or any other form, carry with them side effects that can vary from mild to fatal. Our pharmacist colleagues are truly experts in their field, and provide awesome patient education, but their expertise is not in the day-to-day care of a patient and management of their health circumstances,” Chism added.

Catholic pharmacist Valerie Haas agreed that easier access to the pill could prove to be more harmful to women beyond the moral scope.

“I think it’s horrible, moral issues aside,” said pharmacist Valerie Haas. “I’d never want my daughters to get [birth control] from pharmacists. It needs so much screening and monitoring to prevent serious side effects.”

While the protocol requires pharmacists to be trained, Haas is concerned about what that will look like and if the screening process will be enough to prevent complications from the serious side effects that could be potentially avoided with a physician’s monitoring.

“There are so many conditions to identify ahead of time and that need monitoring during use, and patients won’t know what signs to look out for,” Haas said. “Physicians have always been the gateway to assess side effects to make sure they’re using it safely.

“Honestly, I don’t know how pharmacists will have time…to [screen properly],” Haas added. “It could take 30 to 45 minutes to do it properly, and most pharmacists I know barely have time to go to the bathroom.”

Studies have shown that the pill can have serious side effects, and can increase the risk of breast cancer and blood clotting. Haas said that several serious underlying health issues would need serious screening, as contraceptives can complicate or worsen them if undiagnosed or untreated. Some conditions that would need thorough testing and treatment are depression, diabetes, hypertension, bone mineral density, kidney or liver impairment, lupus and endometriosis.

“Endometriosis is another important thing to know, but if it’s not diagnosed, it could be pre-cancerous, and putting more hormones [in your body] could make it worse and lead to potential cancer,” Haas said.

“I would want to be followed fully by a physician who can evaluate all those things in the office…if I had underlying issues that put me at risk. And I don’t know how a pharmacist will be able to comprehensively handle all of that,” Haas continued.

Lynn Grandon, director of the Respect Life office at the Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver, agreed that easier access to the pill can have damaging effects on women’s health.

“The more people can easily get it, the more women will see the physical effects of the pill, which are documented,” Grandon said. “I’m interested to see what this training will be for pharmacists.”

Grandon also noted the moral danger of contraception that will continue to damage culture as a result of easier access to the pill.

“It’s not just bad because contraception is bad, but if we look back on what’s happened in our society in the past 50 years, we’ve had serious damage in our own society. All the predictions of Pope Paul VI [in Humanae Vitae, “on human life”] came true, if contraception was introduced,” Grandon said.

According to the Denver Post, pharmacists are not required to participate, including those who have conscience objections, which is great news for Catholic pharmacists. In addition to training, pharmacists will also be required to have liability insurance and inform the patient’s doctor when prescribing birth control. Girls under 18 will not be eligible.

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.