"Humanae Vitae," 35 Years Down the Line

Research Proving the Wisdom of an Encyclical on Contraception

| 1764 hits

LONDON, JULY 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- This July 25 marks the 35th anniversary of one of the most controversial Church documents in recent history, "Humanae Vitae" (Of Human Life). The storm of criticism caused by Pope Paul VI's rejection of contraceptives continues to create polemics today.



Just last week, the London daily Times published an article headlined "Why People Who Use the Rhythm Method of Contraception Are Often Called Parents." The July 11 article reported on research in Canada that found some women can ovulate multiple times in the same month. The study, led by Roger Pierson of Saskatchewan University, was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. According to the Times, this meant that the rhythm method "is often completely useless."

But an article posted on the Web site of WOOMB (World Organization Ovulation Method Billings) strongly rejected such affirmations. Professor emeritus James B. Brown explained that the phenomenon of abnormal ovulation has been well known for decades and that the Billings Ovulation Method has developed ways to allow for this problem.

Moreover, Brown pointed out that the interpretation "that fertile ovulations can occur more than once on different days during the menstrual cycle is grossly in error." He also criticized "the unwarranted hostility of the authors, the Journal and the current official opinion to natural family planning."

The WOOMB site also defends the reliability of the Billings ovulation method (not to be confused with the less-reliable rhythm methods). The most recent study, carried out with 992 couples in China, showed a 99.5% success rate with Billings.

Such a success rate compares well with contraceptives. According to a recent French study, one in three pregnancies is unplanned, and two-thirds of those occur when couples are using contraceptives, BBC reported April 29.

Dr. Nathalie Bajos and colleagues at the Hospital of Bicetre, in Paris, based their findings on a survey of almost 3,000 women across France, of whom 1,034 become pregnant unexpectedly. The survey found that most of these women had become pregnant because they had not used the contraceptive methods properly.

Warnings prove true

The warnings contained in "Humanae Vitae" on the consequences of what is now known as the contraceptive mentality have sadly proven to be true. No. 17 of the encyclical expressed concern at the contraceptive power "passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law." Paul VI feared that governments would impose contraceptive methods on people, thus intervening in "the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife."

Such pressure can take many forms. Last Dec. 6 the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children condemned the British government for giving more bilateral overseas aid for abortion and population control than for clean drinking water. A report by the Department for International Development for 2001-2 revealed that 260 million pounds ($422 million at the current exchange rate) was given for "reproductive health services," far surpassing the 78.8 million pounds ($128 million) destined for safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Sterilization, widely used as a contraceptive method, has frequently been imposed on people. In Peru, for example, a parliamentary commission reopened an investigation into the forced sterilization of more than 300,000 rural women allegedly authorized by then President Alberto Fujimori, BBC reported June 18. The original investigation against Fujimori, who fled to Japan in November 2000, was set aside earlier this year for lack of evidence.

A Peruvian government report last year concluded that the operations were promoted in a "deceitful" publicity campaign of leaflets, posters and radio advertisements promising "happiness and well-being." It said there was inadequate evaluation before surgery and little after-care. Procedures were also found to have been negligent, with fewer than half being carried out with a proper anaesthetist. Peru's Human Rights Commission found that 18 women died from complications, and thousands more suffered psychological problems as a direct result of the sterilizations.

In Brazil, politicians commonly buy votes by paying for women to be sterilized, the Wall Street Journal reported June 13. According to Brazil's latest official figures, as of 1996, 40% of all married women of reproductive age were sterilized, but demographers believe the figure is now close to 50%, the Journal said.

The article noted that in addition to opposition by the Catholic Church, the widespread practice of sterilization is also decried by some feminists and human-rights activists who say that poor, uneducated women are duped into surgery.

Contraceptive dangers

The health dangers of the first generation of contraceptives are well known. Less publicized however are the problems related to pills in use today. The Feb. 1 issue of the British Medical Journal reported on information from the Netherlands that the new contraceptive Yasmin has been linked with five reports of thromboembolism, due to a suspected adverse drug reaction.

Yasmin was approved as an oral contraceptive in all European Union countries in 2000 and has recently been launched in the United Kingdom. The British Medical Journal commented that the risk of thromboembolism for women using the third-generation pill has long been debated.

Contraceptive use is also associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer, HealthScoutNews reported April 3. The information comes from a study in the April 5 issue of The Lancet, a British medical magazine.

The risk is directly related to length of time women use contraceptives. Although the risk is higher for women infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is thought to be the major cause of cervical cancer, using the pill elevates the risk for women free of HPV, researchers say.

A joint British-French team of researchers reviewed data from 28 studies covering more than 12,500 women with cervical cancer. They found that the risk was increased 10% in a woman who used the pill for less than five years, 60% for someone who used it for five to nine years, and was doubled for 10 years use or more.

More news on contraceptive dangers came from researchers at McMaster University in Canada. They discovered that mice that received the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera were 100 times more susceptible to infection with herpes simplex virus type 2 than untreated mice were, Reuters reported April 24.

If a similar pattern occurs in humans, these findings suggest that women who use Depo-Provera might be particularly susceptible to developing genital herpes when exposed to the herpes virus, study author Dr. Charu Kaushic told Reuters.

Meanwhile, in Norway, an eight-year study involving nearly 100,000 women found that those taking oral contraceptives were 25% more likely to develop breast cancer, the London daily Telegraph reported May 19. The Norwegian Women and Cancer Study scrutinized the lifestyles of 96,362 women aged between 30 and 70 years of age, 851 of whom developed breast cancer. The longer the pill was taken, the higher the risk, it found.

The "morning-after pill," which some countries are even distributing in schools, is not without its risks either. Britain's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has warned that some women who take the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy could increase their chances of having an ectopic, or tubal, pregnancy, Reuters reported Jan. 30.

In a letter to all doctors, Donaldson said 12 cases of ectopic pregnancy out of 201 unintended pregnancies had been reported to the Committee on Safety of Medicines following failure of the pill Levonelle. Thirty-five years on, "Humanae Vitae's" message is more important than ever.