Question 150


Why Do Some Catholic Physicians Refuse to Prescribe Contraception?

We say that contraception is very bad medicine, in addition to being morally repugnant and harmful. But this becomes credible only when practicing physicians make this claim, and then provide clear evidence that this is so.

Dr. Rebecca Peck, MD, provides a strong testimony about this. It makes for a great parish bulletin insert. Look for ways to take advantage of this. This is an example of the right to religious freedom put into practice.

Catholic Physicians Don’t Prescribe Birth Control For Patients--
Now Must Provide Birth Control to Employees
Dr. Rebecca Peck, MD, CCD, ABFM, Marquette NFP Instructor

My husband and I have a Catholic family medical practice. Even though we do not prescribe oral contraceptives(OCPs) or abortion-causing drugs for our patients, we are now being forced to purchase insurance which includes these items free of charge for our employees. 

Our practice is truly Catholic in nature. When patients enter our practice, they are greeted by a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We give out Miraculous Medals to patients, pray with patients, and provide indigent care. Over the years, I have seen a lot of women. When I began my practice over 12 years ago, I initially did prescribe oral contraceptives. However, about 6 years ago I just had to stop. My conscience was really bothering me about this whole issue. I realized that women using contraceptives were suffering from a whole host of problems. Some were medical (induced by the pill) and some were spiritual (from their own angst about being on OCPs). I studied my Catholic faith, Scripture, and Magisterial documents (encyclicals like Humanae Vitae, Theology of the Body and the Gospel of Life) and discovered that these were not God’s plan for marital love. After hearing me out, my patients were surprisingly accepting of my decision not to prescribe OCPs. They realized that if I was willing to provide ethical and well-researched reasons, then this meant that I was exactly the kind of provider they wanted when the chips were down. 

I have seen alot of oral contraceptive-induced diseases in the women I have treated over the years. I have had patients with strokes, pulmonary emboli, deep vein thrombosis, cervical cancer, Human Papilloma Virus and breast cancer. All of these diseases INCREASE when women take the pill. In fact, it was these young women who developed breast cancer at young ages that really started haunting me. I started investigating their histories and found almost universally that their only risk factor for cancer was that they took oral contraceptives for several years before their first pregnancy. I started researching the medical literature and indeed found this to be true, based on several studies (1).

I discussed it with several oncologists in town and realized that they had been seeing this trend also. About this same time, the well-known postmenopausal Women’s Health Initiative and Nurses Health Studies proved that estrogen and progesterone used in older women’s hormone preparations definitely caused breast cancer. In addition, in 2005, the IARC declared Estrogen and Progesterone Class I carcinogens. I explained these developments to my patients and provided them with other options for their family planning needs, and became certified in the Marquette method of Natural Family Planning.

It is disturbing to me that our government is now calling these carcinogens (oral contraceptives) “preventive health care”. Firstly, they are not preventive care. To call birth control preventive care would mean that pregnancy is a disease state or that children are so odious that they should be prevented. This is an insult to a child, and also to a woman struggling with the disease of infertility. An infertile woman’s happiest day is when you tell her that her infertility is “cured” and that she is pregnant with a child!

Secondly, by making these carcinogens free to all patients means that the usage of these things will go up. Do we really want more breast cancer, more cervical cancer, and more cardiovascular events in our young women? How is this “women’s health” if these compounds cause such morbidity? And why is it fair that the government gets to make women’s contraceptives “free” but cancer patients or diabetic patients have to pay for their medicines? Whose value judgement puts contraceptives first on the free list?

Thirdly, pro-contraception feminists make much of the fact that birth control lowers some cancer rates (such as ovarian cancer) but never mention that birth control increases breast and cervical rates. They also tout the “many” medical uses of the pill, but neglect to inform women that many (if not all) of these uses can be treated just as well by far less harmful substances. Do we really want to use Class I carcinogens to treat acne, for example? The government should not be in the business of telling insurance companies to mandate harmful drugs for questionable medical uses. Furthermore, the government has made these contraceptives free because of their contraceptive actions, NOT their medical uses.

As an employer, I should have the same right of conscience in refusing to purchase an insurance plan which contains objectionable “treatments”, as I have in my capacity as a physician who refuses to prescribe these drugs. This is not just about a physician who doesn’t want to prescribe something for a religious reason. I can make BOTH a religious AND medical case against prescribing oral contraceptives. Both should be equally valid in allowing me the right to refuse to participate in procedures and drugs which I feel are detrimental to my patients. If you examine the harms of oral contraceptives, one can cite spiritual, medical, societal and environmental harms from these agents. There are also harmful consequences for women choosing sterilizations and abortions. Moreover, these procedures harm society, by reducing children, which are a social “good”. As such this mandatory law, should be considered unjust, which of course it is.

Physicians must be allowed to retain the right of conscience in practicing medicine, or the whole field of medicine will devolve into an unprincipled and unethical profession. Patients will lose confidence in their providers, which will negatively impact their care. By advocating immoral practices, medicine and government will suffer, and patients and providers alike will succumb to moral decay.

Finally, this mandate creates a “slippery slope” whereby other objectionable practices, like euthanasia and assisted suicide may soon advance, based upon new euphemisms like “cost containment” or the like. I think it is no accident that we are now seeing sex-selective abortions, same sex marriage laws and POLST (Physician Orders of Life Sustaining Treatments). We can only hope and pray that America wakes up quickly and stands up to these various affronts. 

(1) Peck, R., Norris, C. “Why OCPS Should Not Be Part of a Preventive Care Mandate” Linacre Quarterly, Feb 2012