Catholics: Birth Control is a Sin . . . Any Medical Exceptions?

Tonight, I was flipping through the channels and happened upon a show on EWTN called “Contraception: Why Not?” It was a lecture given by a Catholic woman who believes that birth control is a sin, because, among other reasons, it takes away one of the main purposes of sex–procreation, and it ignores God’s will.

The show raised a question with me. I have endometriosis, which is a hideously painful gynecological condition. Thus far, Depro-Prevera has been a successful treatment for me. However, I am a married woman, and Depro-Prevera is primarily a birth control medication. Would Catholics consider my taking it to be a sin?

Part of me thinks that they probably would, because I could go without it. I’d just be in unspeakable agony for a day or so every month-- my condition is not life-threatening. But what about a woman who could die if she became pregnant?

Are there any medical exceptions to the birth control rules in Catholic doctrine?

I don’t know about doctrine—I no longer practice, so I leave that to tomndebb et al.—but I learned in passing that my father (whom I used to describe as “Irish, a doctor, and from Montana,” which rates at least a 10 on the stubborn scale) would prescribe contraceptives on occasion. The patient would be someone who must not conceive, but who was not in a position where a hysterectomy was necessary. It was rare, but he would do it if indicated.

OTOH, the only time I recall him coming close to losing his temper to a patient on the phone was when a patient of one of the other doctors in his coverage group called on a Saturday evening to have her BC prescription refilled. He was more irrritated at her lack of foresight, but the fact that is was for something that he considered optional didn’t help any.

Disclaimers: he never identified a patient, either by name or by providing information that could lead to an identification; but he would talk about his practice in a general way. If you’ve followed QtM’s saga of being a prison doctor, the overall approach was very similar.

And we certainly didn’t go out of our way to listen to him talking with a patient (it would have been grounds for a wallop or two if he thought we were). But he had a voice that carried (and how I wish I could hear it again!), especially when he “had his Irish up.”

The official text of Humanae Vitae.

I suppose a woman who wanted to take Depro-Prevera for medical reasons and still follow Catholic doctrine could simply abstain from sexual intercourse while taking it. How often do you take it, and how long does the contraceptive effect last?

From what I read, nope.

From Catechism of the Catholic Church

There aren’t any “medical exceptions” to the rule- you wouldn’t be able to take the medication if you were taking it to prevent birth for a medical reason. But taking it to treat a condition such as endometriosis is another story- to my understanding, in that case can be permissible , if the contraceptive effect is unintended.

It’s not taking birth control in and of itself that is the sin - it is the objective of artificially preventing birth. As long as that is not the purpose of the medication, you’re OK.

You’re not reading enough.

The quoted sections of the Catechism involve the use of medical contraception for the purpose of contraception - that is, for regulating birth.

When medicine is used for another purpose - say, to prevent blinding pain - it may well be morally acceptable, even if there is an unintended, secondary effect to the medication that involves contraception.

This is referred to as the Doctrine of Double Effect, and is a key part of Roman Catholic ethical reasoning.

  • Rick

an interesting situation you have proposed.

endometriosis can cause infertility… so that would be bad…
the medication that can control endometriosis has the side effect of birth control…so that would be bad…

i think catholic wise you would be in a hot place if you did and a hot place if you didn’t.

My mother, who was a very devout Catholic, was prescribed birth control pills from her doctor at a Catholic hospital in the mid 1960s after I was born in an effort to better regulate her menstrual periods.

She had already had four kids and was 36, so I don’t think she minded the contraceptive aspect.

I take it every three months, and, according to some things I’ve read, if I stopped taking it now (after having used it for years) it might take up to a full year for my fertility to come back.

rocking chair, the Depro-Prevera merely prevents the pain from occurring-- it is not treating the underlying condition. My condition is actually worsening, but I’m not having the horrible pain that accompanies it.

Basically, what happens is that menstrual blood irritates the endometrial cysts, causing the pain. By taking the Depro shots, I no longer have periods, so the cysts aren’t irritated. They are still growing, and spreading, but I don’t have the excrutiating pain.

No, that’s not so. As I explained in my post directly preceding yours, taking medication to control pain can be morally acceptable, even if it has the unintended double effect of contraception.

Why would you post a completely factually incorrect speculation in General Questions, right below a post that accurately explains the situation?

  • Rick

Why? As I understand the Roman Catholic doctrine, conception is to be left to God. If either of the spouses has a natural medical condition that limits their fertility, why would that pose any moral problems? I would have thought that’s part of the “leaving it to God” idea.

bricker, because i didn’t see the post above mine until now. as i’m not a catholic i am not sure of where they draw lines.

my post was a speculation/questioning of where the lines would be drawn.

the posts surrounding mine have answered that and now i understand where the lines are.

now i’m wondering about my understanding of the catholic line on infertility. due to northern piper’s post. i was under the impression that there was a harder line on infertility.

I would defer to Bricker’s detailed knowledge of the Catholic position, but speaking more generally, in Christian morality and ethics the question is always focused on the individual’s choices. What choices have you made in your actions, with what intent?

Things that are beyond the individual’s power to control or to choose are morally neutral. It’s how you respond to those facts that require good moral judgment.

A medical condition is not something that an individual wills or chooses (except in situations like self-inflicted injury). Therefore, no moral judgment is triggered when an individual is naturally infertile.

On the other hand, if there were two equally effective treatments for your condition, one of which caused infertility and the other did not, and you preferred the one which caused infertility because of its side effect, that would be considered a sin. The general standard of measurement is how you would react if, miraculously, you did have a baby while on the medication. An acceptable reaction might be something along the lines of “We weren’t expecting this baby, but he is a gift from God, and we should therefore love and accept him”, while an unnacceptable reaction might be something more like “Damnit, a baby? That wasn’t supposed to be possible with this medication! What went wrong?”.

For that matter, there are at least some allowed cases of birth control medicines being given for purposes of birth control. Some missionary nuns in dangerous parts of the world, for instance, have been given birth control pills agains the possibility of rape (of course, every effort was also taken to prevent the rapes in the first place, too). Of course, this is not at all analogous to the OP’s situation, but it does illustrate that exceptions exist.

You may find this article interesting…it deals with the refusal to fill BCPs and other contraception devices. Sad, Sad, Sad…

"Access Denied

Find out why growing numbers of doctors and pharmacists across the US are refusing to prescribe or dispense birth control pills "

"Lacey’s pharmacist and Kelley’s doctors are among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of physicians and pharmacists who now adhere to a controversial belief that birth control pills and other forms of hormonal contraception–including the skin patch, the vaginal ring, and progesterone injections–cause tens of thousands of “silent” abortions every year. Consequently, they are refusing to prescribe or dispense them. ",2479,s1-7342,00.html

Well, my explanation preceded your incorrect speculation by over nine hours. This leads me to infer you posted without reading the entire thread. I would humbly suggest that - especially in GQ - that isn’t a good practice.

Again pointing out that this is GQ, and rather than posting speculation that sounds … well, definitive… I’d suggest making it clear that you’re asking a question.

There is no sin associated with being infertile. If you have chosen to make yourself infertile, that’s different. But becoming infertile as the result of disease or accident is not a moral issue and raises no issue of sin.

  • Rick

I will defer to Bricker on any of this, but my first wife and I did attend Catholic pre-marital counseling. In a room full of young, fertile couples, the subject of family planning came up more than once.

As I remember it, we were advised as follows:

  1. There are three purposes of marriage:

-To formalize the commitment between man and woman
-To provide an acceptable outlet for sexual feelings
-To have children

  1. The acceptable form of birth control in a Catholic marriage was “natural family planning” i.e., regulating sexual intercourse to coincide with the wife’s less-fertile times.

  2. It is understood that medical treatments may make a person infertile. That is morally acceptable provided the primary goal of the treatment is not infertility.

The less-reverent members of the class called this last item the “I need the pill to regulate my cycles” exemption.

Back to Lissa’s OP. It is my understanding that using a contraceptive to treat endometriosis, or even surgery that resulted in permanent infertility, is acceptable.