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: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”