Everything you wanted to know about contraception but were afraid to ask

Apologist Bob Sullivan to give talk and Q&A, 'The Truth About Birth Control,' Oct. 19

Roxanne King

Did you know that one of the doctors who played a major role in the development of the birth control pill was a devout Catholic? Did you know that when artificial contraception was first legalized it was only for use by married women?

And did you know that after contraception was legalized, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — without scientific study or breakthroughs — changed the definition of the term “conception” from the time of “fertilization” to that of “implantation of a fertilized ovum,” which occurs later?

Those facts and more will be offered by attorney and Catholic columnist/blogger Bob Sullivan during a multi-media presentation, “The Truth About Birth Control,” set for 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Knights of Columbus hall, 1555 N. Grant St., downtown Denver.

The presentation, which is followed by a Q&A, commemorates the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), the 1968 encyclical letter of Blessed Pope Paul VI on the regulation of birth. (Blessed Paul VI is set to be canonized Oct. 14 in Rome.) The event is sponsored by the group Young Catholic Professionals. All are invited.

Sullivan, who resides with his wife and five daughters in Hastings, Neb., will explore artificial contraception from four angles: historical, scientific/medical, legal and cultural.

“I do a historical walk through the 1900s showing how the contraception movement got its start — the history with [birth control activist] Margaret Sanger and testing out of Harvard University,” Sullivan told the Denver Catholic. “Then I talk about the administrative and legal approval of the drug through the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’ll have a section on the detrimental side-effects of contraception … and the cultural impact hormonal contraception has had.”

The biggest misconception people have about artificial contraception?

“That it’s a good and liberating development in science,” Sullivan said. “Part and parcel of that is it’s seen as a cure-all for a multitude of symptoms and conditions women can suffer from … when safer, more appropriate means can be used.”

The biggest misconception people have about Humanae Vitae?

“That it is a restriction in place to keep people from feeling happy,” Sullivan said. “The truth is that if you look into and appreciate what Humanae Vitae says [on marriage and responsible parenthood], it frees you and allows you to have a fuller, more complete joy than relying on hormones to make your body malfunction.

“It allows the spouses to be an unrestricted gift of self to the other, open to the way that God designed us to participate in the Trinitarian form of love.”

The truth is that if you look into and appreciate what Humanae Vitae says, it frees you and allows you to have a fuller, more complete joy than relying on hormones to make your body malfunction.”

So, who was the Catholic doctor who helped develop “the pill” and why did he do so?

“Dr. John Rock, a Harvard professor and practicing physician, thought the Church was going to adopt hormonal contraception as moral,” Sullivan said, referring to expectation that surrounded the Second Vatican Council’s study of the issue.

“He thought he was ahead of the curve. He ended up leaving the Church once Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae.”

What was the Supreme Court case that legalized artificial contraception?

“Griswold v. Connecticut [1965] legalized contraception for married women,” Sullivan said.

Following the Griswold decision, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a bulletin redefining the term “conception.” The new definition claimed conception occurs at implantation, rather than at fertilization. This change led people to see the pill as being moral, Sullivan said.

Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the Church’s constant teaching that it is intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human life — the conjugal act must always be open to life. The Church permits the regulation of birth for serious reasons via Natural Family Planning (NFP).

Sullivan’s talk will include sobering facts about hormonal contraception’s side effects, which can include blood clots, high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke, as well as increased risks for a variety of cancers, weight gain, mood swings and depression.

Unbeknownst to many, Sullivan said, hormonal contraception also acts as an abortifacient by preventing the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.

Ultimately, hormonal contraception has a detrimental impact on relationships, marriage and family, while natural methods of fertility management promote intimacy, he said.

“People say, ‘What’s the difference between the pill and NFP?’” Sullivan said. “There’s a huge difference.”

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The voice of the Church against contraceptives

The encyclical Humane Vitae turns 50 years old

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, on human life in which Pope Paul VI spoke of married love amid the new challenges presented during that time. Here we offer a brief synthesis of this critical document that still has great validity today.

What is the theme of Humanae Vitae?

The theme is the nature and purpose of married love and the transmission of life. The central message of this text is that the use of artificial contraceptive methods is an immoral act since it separates the conjugal act from its unitive and procreative purposes.

Who wrote it?

Paul VI, who was the pope of the Catholic Church between 1963 and 1978.

When was it written and what was the state of the world in those times?

This encyclical was published July 25, 1968. The world was going through the sexual revolution, with the appearance of the contraceptive pill in 1960 and the increasing concern of overpopulation, which was often based on exaggerated numerical projections. The sexual revolution created an increasing disconnect between sexual relations, love, and responsibility. Many priests and lay ministers were confused and didn’t know how to guide the faithful about sexual themes. For this reason, a statement from the Church was necessary.

Does Humanae Vitae offer some proposal concerning birth control?

Yes. Through a discernment based on just reasons, if the couple determines that it is not the will of God to have a child at the moment, the pope proposes using natural methods of birth control. He proposes abstaining from sexual relations during periods of a woman’s fertility, which allows for better communication between spouses. Unlike contraceptives, this practice of periodic abstinence promotes the virtue of chastity within marriage.

How did the world react to this new encyclical?

There was strong criticism of Paul VI’s stance from many corners of the world. According to them, the encyclical was legalistic, ultra-conservative and closed to progress. Also, within the Church herself there were contrary or somewhat ambiguous reactions. However, Paul VI was very courageous to go against the current of a world that aggressively imposed new stereotypes for a sexual life detached from commitment and love.

Was the Pope right to be so critical of artificial birth control?

In this encyclical, the Pope pointed out some consequences of the use of contraceptives. Among these are an increase of infidelity, the general degradation of morality, becoming sexually active at a younger age, the loss of respect for and objectification of women, and the excessive intervention of government authorities in conjugal life, which takes place only within the intimacy of each couple. Fifty years later, we see how these consequences have been realized and have trivialized something so sacred as the sexual act.