Catholic Women Take the Pill Too, Despite Religious Ban

by Thilaka Ravi on  May 6, 2010 at 4:03 PM Drug News   - G J E 4
Fifty years after the birth control pill went on the US market, millions of women around the world are still under orders from the Roman Catholic hierarchy to avoid its use.

But all indications are that women stopped listening long ago.
 Catholic Women Take the Pill Too, Despite Religious Ban
Catholic Women Take the Pill Too, Despite Religious Ban

"Catholics use the pill the same way everyone else does... Priests don't even preach against it any more," said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.

Ninety-eight percent of American women aged 15-44 have used some form of contraception and more than 44 million have used the pill, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"There is no evidence that the teachings of the church influence Catholics in their decisions about the kind of contraception they actually use," said Frances Kissling.

The lead author of a 2004 report on Catholics' attitudes on sexual behavior, Kissling said fewer than five percent of Catholics in the United States use birth control methods allowed by the Church.

These include the rhythm method, where couples abstain from sex depending on where the woman is in her menstrual cycle; total abstinence; or breast-feeding for birth control.

Protestants, Jews and Muslims are bound by less rigid teachings on birth control than Catholics, but all the major religions' rules on the matter are based on the premise that the reason for sex is to go forth and multiply.

Just two years after US officials approved the pill -- one of whose inventors was a practising Catholic and the other the son of Russian Jewish immigrants -- the Vatican came close to loosening its rules on birth control when a papal commission made up of bishops, theologians and lay people set up by Pope Paul VI recommended that the Church lift its ban on artificial birth control.

O'Brien thinks the bishops on the panel had been touched by the stories told by five married women on the commission about life as part of a couple.

"The women spoke of the fear of sex, the fear of pregnancy, having one pregnancy after the other, maternal mortality, which was prevalent in northern societies because of the ban on contraception," said O'Brien.

"The bishops' hearts and minds were changed and they voted to recommend that the Church rescind its ban on artificial contraception, saying it was not intrinsically evil and that the pope's previous teachings on it were not infallible.

"It was a miracle," he said.

But the pope wasn't swayed and in 1968, he ignored the commission and said the Church was sticking to its old line on birth control.

In other words, the pill was still banned for Catholics.

"The pill is not the problem. What the Church has a problem with, is people who want to have sex and cut the sex off from fertility," said Bill Mattison, a professor of theology at Catholic University in Washington.

"We're trying to keep sex dignified and life-giving here," he said.

And many Catholic women in the United States initially tried to abide by the Church's teachings in their marriages.

"We played 'Vatican roulette' for years and it didn't work," said Else, 79, who had four children and one miscarriage in five years and was ordered by her doctor to take the pill after she had a fifth child in 1967.

"The doctor said to me -- he was a Catholic -- 'You're playing with fire having another baby and I think we need to do something a little bit more guaranteed.' So he put me on the pill," she told AFP.

"If I hadn't gone on the pill, I'd probably have been having kids at 50, if I'd lived that long," she said.

Women like Else who tried to obey the Church's teaching on contraception, "had more children than they wanted, it was a great sacrifice in life and at a certain point they said, 'Enough of this. This is ridiculous.'

"They realized that the Catholic hierarchy of celibate men don't know what they're talking about when it came to birth control," she said.

"The other way to illustrate it is the joke that goes: 'What do you call Catholic couples who use the rhythm method?'" said Kissling.

The answer: Parents.

Source: AFP

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