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Problematic Pill Logic | Catholic Life

Problematic Pill Logic

Note: this post is serious and not sarcastic.

I am quite saddened by the number of faithful Catholics who assert that it is immoral for women to use artificial hormones (henceforth “the pill”) for therapeutic purposes (henceforth endometriosis, because ultimately everything is about me). This is one of a series of posts which will explain why I find their arguments sadly unconvincing. If you see what I’m missing, do chime in and kindly explain. Of course convincing me on one issue will not automatically change my mind, but it would be a start.

Dr Van der Vange’s research used high resolution ultra-sound which visually showed that women ovulate on the popularly prescribed low dose pill. A blood test confirmed that ovulation had occurred. The pill can have a break-through ovulation rate that can be as high as 17 ovulations per 100 women who used the pill for one year.

Other researchers have shown that the low dose pill has an even higher rate of break-through ovulation of almost 27 ovulations per 100 women per year.


The ovulation rate has been reported to be about 27 ovulations in 100 women using the pill for one year. But the detected pregnancy rate is much lower at around 4 pregnancies per 100 women using the pill for one year.

As you can see, there is a big difference between the number of women who ovulation (27) and the number of detected pregnancies (4). What has happened within the woman’s body to reduce the high ovulation rate to such a low number of detected pregnancies? I suggest that one answer to this important question is that pregnancies have begun, because ovulation and fertilization have occurred, but some of these pregnancies are terminated because implantation cannot take place. The pill has damaged the lining of the womb, stopping implanation[sic]. Source

I think we’re missing something. Let’s do the math. And since I’m not so great at math, you’re more than welcome to correct me.

A healthy woman (of unknown age, but in her reproductive years) has about a 25% chance of pregnancy for each month of randomly timed sexual intercourse with no attempt at avoiding pregnancy. Wikipedia says so, so it must be true.

But back to the women on the pill: 27 women who ovulate and have randomly timed intercourse. The pregnancy rate should be… ::counts on fingers. realizes fingers will never work and pulls up the calculator:: 6.25. But wait! That 27 number was from the low dose pill. And what woman with serious hormonal issues like endometriosis is going for the low dose pill? Certainly not me! So I’ll have to add this up again.

17 x 0.25 = 4.25. Now isn’t that funny! That looks a whole lot like the 4 pregnancies observed! Of course it isn’t realistic to expect a woman with reproductive health issues to have the same rate of pregnancy since the very issue which causes her to seek out the pill may also cause infertility.

I don’t think that this example proves that the pill is permissible, but it does indicate to me that this sort of anti-pill logic ignores reality. A woman’s body does not normally function with a 1:1 ratio or ovulation to pregnancy. There may well be *no* “missing” pregnancies.

Furthermore, if it is true that the pill can fail in one area (allowing ovulation) while still working correctly in another (preventing the thickening of the uterine lining) there is no reason to believe that it might not also succeed in the third area (making the cervical fluid inhospitable to sperm). If that is the case, then there is yet another explanation for lack of pregnancy: the sperm was prevented from reaching the egg. That would certainly count as contraceptive, but not abortifacient .

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10 Responses to “Problematic Pill Logic”

  1. Marc Cardaronella 18. Dec, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    I didn’t think it was immoral to use the pill for therapeutic purposes, just to have sex while that’s going on…almost the same thing I guess but there are cases of women who are celibate and using the pill with no problems. I once knew a very faithful nun who was on the pill for health reasons. Obviously she had no problem in reconciling the sex part. 😉

    Also, as I understand it, the pill doesn’t have to be an abortifacient to be immoral. It’s a contraceptive. That’s the bad part. Of course, the possibility of the prevention of implantation of a fertilized egg makes it worse. Am I missing something in your argument?

    I always find it interesting that the creator of the pill was a faithful, practicing Catholic and really thought he was doing women and the Church a great favor through his creation. He died estranged from the Church and never reconciled to the rejection of his discovery.

    • Helen 19. Dec, 2010 at 2:01 am #

      The morality of a particular issue always depends on the intent. It is immoral to do something intending to contracept, and therefore it is immoral to use a contraceptive for the intent of contracepting. The intent to contracept implies an intent to have sex, as well. But if a couple has a healthy sex life, and does not have an intent to contracept, there can be no problem with a woman taking a medicine that, as an unfortunate side effect, prevents conception, even while continuing to have sex. She can’t help what the side effects of her medicine are, and, frankly, that’s not her moral responsibility. Her only moral responsibility lies in what she does or does not intend to do. We shouldn’t drive around intending to hit squirrels, but if a driver swerves to avoid a person and hits a squirrel, he is not morally responsible for the death of that squirrel, even if he feels bad. Should he just not drive at all?

      Many women have very real issues that need hormonal therapy, which is what the pill is. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were women who used the pill to relieve certain symptoms, even if they might be able to find relief elsewhere, and continued to use the pill because of it’s desirable side effect: contraception. But a woman who does that is just lying to herself. We know what our intents are, and we’re ultimately accountable for them.

    • Rae 19. Dec, 2010 at 6:22 am #

      Helen is right, intent is key. In Humanae Vitae it says “the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.” So there is no more problem with a woman using the pill for cramps than there would be with painkillers.

      I am not sure if you missed the fact that I was posting about the use of the pill etc. for therapeutic purposes, not for avoiding pregnancy. It is obviously problematic when used as a contraceptive, and of course I also think it is problematic for doctors to prescribe it without examining other options which are potentially better for the woman in question.

      • Marc Cardaronella 21. Dec, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

        Thank you both for this response. I didn’t consider this but of course it makes sense. I just thought in terms of it being an intrinsically immoral act and so there was no way it could be moral for a woman to use a contraceptive for medical reasons and still have an active sex life. But I can definitely understand your point now.

  2. Melody 28. Dec, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    I agree with you; I don’t think using the pill for therapeutic purposes is immoral. Also you make the point well that the pill is not really proven to be abortifacient. Of course the pill is wrong as contraception. But I hate to see people laying on the guilt that they have aborted all these pregnancies, which actually never took place. We Catholics do guilt really well.
    That’s one of the things that I like about your blog; do don’t just swallow whatever its the common “wisdom” in an unexamined way.

  3. Melody 28. Dec, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Previous comment should have read “…you don’t just swallow whatever is the common “wisdom” in an unexamined way.” I should proofread before I hit “post”.

  4. Kathleen 05. Jan, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    This is an interesting post, and one I’d really like to see an “expert” opinion on. Medically, I mean. Rae, I’ve always followed along the pill-as-abortifacient lines, until I read your last post on this topic…sometime last year, I think. Since then I’ve been hesitant, because your logic seems sound to me. I can’t help wondering if the NFP movement latches on to the abortifacient thing b/c it’s a weak point in people’s armor, i.e.: I might not have aproblem with contraception, but I *do* have a problem with abortion.

    I’m not being clear, I’m afraid. Vomiting children will do that to me. :/ Anyway, I do wish we’d see this addressed. Hm. I think I smell an article coming on. :)

    • Rae 05. Jan, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

      I think you are clear enough, and I too would like to see more “expert” opinions. My problem is that what I have found is doctors who take both sides, but neither actually provides solid evidence. And for my purposes I don’t have to prove anything one way or another, just demonstrate that people should stop using the arguments/evidence that they do, because it doesn’t hold up.

      Anyway, the possibility you suggest makes me sad because I feel like we’re constantly undercutting the magnificent truth that we have by our need to sell it more effectively. And then people miss the point and end up getting sterilized!

      And I hope you write that article!

  5. Jeff 30. Jun, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Catholic morality holds that ‘intent’ is not enough to make an action moral. Three things are required for moral acts (intention, circumstance, and object = what you actually do). Intrinsic always have an evil object. Contraception, however, differs from medication. What makes contraception a medication at times depends on intent AND effect. It doesn’t matter if I just intend to use it as medicine if at the same time I place someone’s life in jeopardy. So it is quite right that a person who uses it for medication can’t also engage in sexual activity because you would be endangering someone’s life. You can use it for medication if you are abstinent; but not if you are sexually active. The good of sexual union in marriage doesn’t outweigh the possibility that someone will be aborted by your action.


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