News & Commentary

New Study Shows Birth Control and Contraception Don’t Cut Abortions

Micaiah Bilger   Jul 7, 2017   |   10:45AM    London, England

Claiming that birth control cuts abortion numbers is a favorite talking point of abortion groups like Planned Parenthood, but more and more studies are finding that this is not the case.

BPAS reports one in four of the women on birth control got pregnant while using methods considered to be the most effective, such as the birth control pill or the IUD.

Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS and a late-term abortion advocate, claimed the data shows why women need easy access to abortions.

“Family planning is contraception and abortion. Abortion is birth control that women need when their regular method lets them down,” Furedi said. “When you encourage women to use contraception, you give them the sense that they can control their fertility – but if you do not provide safe abortion services when that contraception fails you are doing them a great disservice.”

The BPAS study involved its more than 60,000 abortion clients in 2016. In total, 51.2 percent of women said they were using at least one form of contraception when they became pregnant, according to the study. Of those women, a quarter said they were using a form of contraception considered to be at least 90-percent effective.

Previous studies have found similar results. A number of reports by the Guttmacher Institute, the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, also show that 55 percent to 60 percent of women having abortions were using contraception at the time.

And a ten-year study in Spain found that abortions increased as contraception use did:

[C]ontraception use increased by about 60%, the abortion rate doubled. In other words, even with an increase in contraception use, there weren’t fewer unwanted pregnancies, there were more.

Yet, Planned Parenthood leaders continue to claim their contraception work decreases abortions. Of course, their motivation in saying it is the hundreds of millions of tax dollars they receive each year.

Furedi at least was more honest about the data and her abortion goals. She said women deserve to know that contraception is not 100-percent effective, but she also touted abortion as the answer when contraception fails.

She wrote in the Telegraph: “The truth of the matter is that any society that values ‘planning families’ needs to value abortion services as part of the birth control package. Abortion is necessary as a supplement to contraception. If you have not been able to prevent a pregnancy, then you need to be able to end it – safely and easily.”

Killing a member of the family should never be a “value” promoted by society, though. Pro-lifers may have different opinions about the use of artificial contraception, but they all agree that family planning should never involve violence against another human being.

An abortion destroys a unique unborn baby’s life. By the time most women have abortions, their unborn baby’s hearts already are beating, and every unborn baby already has his or her unique DNA, unlike any other person’s in the world.

Baby Doe and Karen-35 Years Later


When I started nursing school 50 years ago, medical ethics was not a course but rather common sense principles incorporated into our education. There was no controversy about not harming patients, integrity, equality of treatment regardless of status, etc.

So, of course, abortion and euthanasia were unacceptable and even thinkable in those days.

I particularly remember one teacher who told us about the hypothetical situation of a child with Down Syndrome whose parents wanted to let their baby die and how we naturally had to put the interests of the child first. This kind of protection for patients was routine both ethically and legally in those days.

In 1982, I remembered that situation when Baby Doe,  a newborn baby boy with an easily correctable hole between his esophagus (food pipe) and trachea (windpipe), was denied this lifesaving surgery by his parents and a judge because he also had Down Syndrome. Six days later, Baby Doe starved and dehydrated to death while his case was being appealed to the Supreme Court after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled 3-1 against saving him.

My husband, a doctor, and I were appalled when we first read about Baby Doe in the newspaper and my husband suggested that we adopt the baby ourselves and pay for the surgery.

I said yes but with some reluctance since I was already pregnant with our third child and our other children were just 5 and 3. But who else was better situated than us to care for a child with a disability who needed surgery?

In the end, we were too late to save Baby Doe. We found out that Baby Doe’s parents had already rejected the many other families who tried to adopt him.

Five months later, I gave birth to my daughter Karen who also happened to have Down Syndrome and a life-threatening condition that needed surgery.  Karen was born with a complete endocardial cushion defect of the heart  that the cardiologist told us was inoperable. We were told to just take her home and our baby would die within 2 weeks to 2 months.

I was heartbroken and cried for 3 days in the hospital before I finally got mad. My obstetrician never came back to check on me in the hospital even though I had a C-section and I demanded a second opinion on her heart condition in case the cardiologist was biased against children with Down Syndrome.

I insisted on leaving the hospital early with my daughter because I wanted as much time as possible with her and especially because I realized that I needed to research Karen’s heart condition to effectively advocate for her.

I joined the St. Louis Down Syndrome Association which helped me enormously, especially with my research and emotional support. Fortunately, it turned out that the initial prognosis was wrong and the cardiologist told us that Karen’s heart could be fixed with just one open-heart operation at age 6 months.

I was elated until the cardiologist told me that he would support my decision to operate “either way”, meaning I could refuse surgery just like Baby Doe’s parents.

I was furious and told him that the issue of Down Syndrome was irrelevant to Karen’s heart condition and that my daughter must be treated the same as any other child with this condition. I also added that if he were biased against people with Down Syndrome, he could not touch my daughter.

To his credit, this doctor recognized the injustice and because of Karen, he eventually became one of the strongest advocates for babies with Down Syndrome.

Unfortunately, I ran into other medical professionals caring for Karen who were not so accepting. One doctor actually told us that “people like you shouldn’t be saddled with a child like this” and another doctor secretly wrote a DNR (do not resuscitate) order against my instructions at the time. It was then that I realized that my so-called “choice” to save my daughter was really a fight.

Tragically, Karen died of complications of pneumonia when she was just 5 ½ months old and just before her scheduled open-heart surgery. I will always miss her but I am so grateful that I was her mother. Karen changed many lives for the better, especially mine.

I became active in the Down Syndrome Association, promoted President Reagan’s “Baby Doe” rules ,  provided babysitting/respite for many children with various disabilities, and even got a chance to talk to then Surgeon General C. Everett Koop about setting up a national hotline for new parents of children with disabilities to find resources.

But most importantly, I was determined to find out what had happened to medical ethics  over the years since nursing school that resulted in the Baby Doe tragedy and hopefully help reverse the mindset that people with disabilities were “better off dead”.

What I discovered was a landmark 1979 book titled “Principles of Biomedical Ethics” written by Tom Beauchamp PhD, a professor of philosophy, and James Childress PhD, a theologian and also a professor of philosophy. Neither one had a medical degree.

They devised these four principles for medical ethics:

  • Autonomy – The right for an individual to make his or her own choice.
  • Beneficence – The principle of acting with the best interest of the other in mind.
  • Non-maleficence – The principle that “above all, do no harm,” as stated in the Hippocratic Oath.
  • Justice – A concept that emphasizes fairness and equality among individuals.

Although all these principles were considered equal, it wasn’t long before autonomy became the cornerstone principle in ethics and law, ultimately leading not only to Baby Doe but also to the legalization of assisted suicide/euthanasia.

Ironically, all these principles have been used to justify cases like Baby Doe’s as well as assisted suicide/euthanasia.

Beneficence and non-maleficence have become a ways to see death as an actual blessing to real, perceived or potential suffering. Ominously, the justice principle has become the rationale for rationing under the guise of supposedly not wasting scarce healthcare resources .


35 years after Baby Doe, some things like medical technologies and education for people with disabilities are better but many things like assisted suicide/euthanasia have pushed the ethics of death even farther and are a threat to all of us and our loved ones.

The Baby Doe tragedy should have been a fire alarm for the evils we see today but it is never too late or impossible to try to promote a culture of respect for all lives.

Casey at 25: Pro-Life Progress Despite a Judicial Setback

By Michael J. New — June 29, 2017

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This case involved the constitutionality of several provisions in Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act and marked the only time that the Supreme Court formally reconsidered its holdings in Roe v. Wade. When the Supreme Court failed to reverse Roe in this case, it was a substantial setback for the pro-life movement. Still, the 25 years since Casey have been a story of substantial legislative, political, and legal progress for pro-lifers — progress that has occurred not only because of perseverance but also because the movement shrewdly used legal openings granted to them by the Casey decision.

The pro-life movement has devoted few resources to chronicling its own history, so not many people remember how much pro-lifers had invested in the Casey decision. During the early 1980s, pro-life political strategy shifted from enacting a constitutional amendment to changing the composition of the Supreme Court. At this time, a more conservative Supreme Court seemed almost inevitable, considering that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush appointed a total of five new justices. As a result, a reversal of Roe v. Wade appeared not only plausible but even likely. That made the Supreme Court’s Casey decision particularly disappointing.

Following Casey, there were plenty more reasons for pessimism. The year 1992 saw the election of the first U.S. president publicly committed to keeping abortion legal. Annual abortion numbers had been gradually rising for much of the 1980s, and the number of abortions performed in 1990 surpassed 1.6 million. There was serious discussion about removing the anti-abortion plank from the Republican-party platform, and GOP governors who supported abortion rights — such as Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, William Weld of Massachusetts, and Pete Wilson of California — were heralded by many in the media as the future of the Republican party.

Even worse, in the early 1990s, pro-lifers were losing ground in the court of public opinion. Gallup surveys found that the percentage of people who felt that abortion should be “legal under any circumstances” had steadily increased since the 1970s. A 1995 Gallup survey found that only 33 percent of Americans identified as “pro-life.” Not even demographics appeared to offer much hope. Americans were becoming wealthier and better educated, both of which tended to correlate with “pro-choice” sentiment. All in all, there were good reasons to question the long-term political viability of the pro-life movement.

But the Casey decision contained a silver lining. Even though the Supreme Court did not overturn Roe v. Wade in Casey, it abandoned the trimester framework invented in Roe and instead adopted a doctrine of “undue burden.” This allowed for state regulation of abortion, as long as the regulation did not impose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. Under this new standard, the Casey decision upheld most of the provisions included in Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act, including the parental-consent provision, the reporting requirements, the waiting period, and the informed-consent language. Only the spousal-notification requirement was struck down.

The constitutional protection that Casey granted these laws, coupled with pro-life gains in numerous state legislatures since the 1990s, has led to a substantial increase in the number of state-level pro-life laws. Since 1992, the number of states with parental-involvement laws has increased from 20 to 37. The number of states with informed-consent laws pertaining to abortion has increased from 18 to 35. In recent years, 20 states have banned abortions that take place at or after 20 weeks’ gestation, based on the unborn child’s scientifically documented ability to feel pain. Even more important, after Casey, many states strengthened existing pro-life laws. In particular, several states improved their informed-consent laws by including more information about health risks, fetal development, and sources of support for single mothers.

The incremental strategy has paid dividends. Research shows that public-funding restrictions, parental-involvement laws, and informed-consent laws all reduce abortion rates.

This incremental strategy has paid a variety of dividends. A growing body of peer-reviewed research shows that public-funding restrictions, parental-involvement laws, and properly designed informed-consent laws all reduce abortion rates. Furthermore, the ongoing debates about these incremental laws — many of which enjoy broad public support — have succeeded in reframing the abortion debate in terms more favorable for pro-lifers. Indeed, many of the most worrisome trends of the early 1990s have reversed themselves. It is now Democrats who appear more conflicted over their party’s platform on abortion. The pro-choice Republican governors who were once thought to be the future of the party have largely vanished from the political scene.

Additionally, the pro-life position has been gaining public support. Seventeen of 18 Gallup polls from 1995 to 2008 showed a pro-choice plurality. But Gallup polls from both 2009 and 2012 found that a majority of Americans described themselves as “pro-life.” And those numbers are likely to grow even more in the future. During the 1970s and 1980s, many surveys showed that young adults were likely to favor abortion; since 2000, however, the General Social Survey (GSS) found that young adults are the age demographic most likely to oppose legal abortion.

Most important, the number of abortions is steadily declining. Since 1990, the number of abortions performed in the United States annually has declined by about 42 percent. The latest reported abortion rate from 2014 is half of what it was in 1980 and is even lower than it was in 1974, the year after the Roe v. Wade decision. Interestingly, the unintended-pregnancy rate has remained fairly constant over the long term. The decline in abortions is driven by the fact that a higher percentage of women facing unintended pregnancies are carrying those pregnancies to term. Clearly, pro-life legislative and educational efforts have succeeded in changing hearts and minds.

At some point, the Supreme Court will reconsider its holdings in both Roe and Casey. Predicting judicial rulings is far from an exact science. The Supreme Court may well decide to overturn Roe v. Wade. However, even if Roe is upheld, there is a good chance the Court will continue to allow for greater state-level regulation of abortion. It will be up to the next generation of activists to effectively use future legal openings to advance the culture of life.

Little-Known Facts about Roe v. Wade
Planned Parenthood’s Century of Brutality
Planned Parenthood’s Annual Report: Abortions Are Up, Prenatal Care Is Down

— Michael J. New is an Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and is an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.


Pro-Lifers: Get Out of Medicine!

by Wesley J. Smith
5 . 12 . 17

Doctors in the United States cannot be forced to perform abortions or assist suicides. But that may soon change. Bioethicists and other medical elites have launched a frontal assault against doctors seeking to practice their professions under the values established by the Hippocratic Oath. The campaign’s goal? To force doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others in the health field who hold pro-life or orthodox religious views to choose between their careers and their convictions.

Ethics opinions, legislation, and court filings seeking to deny “medical conscience” have proliferated as journals, legislative bodies, and the courts have taken up the cause. In the last year, these efforts have moved from the relative hinterlands of professional discussions into the center of establishment medical discourse. Most recently, preeminent bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel—one of Obamacare’s principal architects—coauthored with Ronit Y. Stahl an attack on medical conscience in the New England Journal of Medicine, perhaps the world’s most prestigious medical journal. When advocacy of this kind is published by the NEJM, it is time to sound the air raid sirens.

The authors take an absolutist position, claiming that personal morality has no place in medical practice. Under the pretext of “patients’ rights” and a supposed obligation of doctors to adhere to the medical moral consensus—a tyranny of the majority, if you will—Emanuel and Stahl would prohibit doctors from conscientiously objecting to performing requested procedures on moral grounds. From “Physicians, Not Conscripts—Conscientious Objection in Health Care” (my emphasis):

Making the patient paramount means offering and providing accepted medical interventions in accordance with patients’ reasoned decisions. Thus, a health care professional cannot deny patients access to medications for mental health conditions, sexual dysfunction, or contraception on the basis of their conscience, since these drugs are professionally accepted as appropriate medical interventions.

This includes human life–taking actions such as abortion:

[A]bortion is politically and culturally contested, it is not medically controversial. It is a standard obstetrical practice. Health care professionals who conscientiously object to professionally contested interventions may avoid participating in them directly. … Conscientious objection still requires conveying accurate information and providing timely referrals to ensure patients receive care.

This would mean that a Catholic doctor who opposes contraception would have to prescribe it or find a doctor willing to fill out the prescription—even if she informs her patients before being retained that she practices medicine in accord with her church’s moral teachings. It would also require a pro-life OB/GYN who refuses to terminate a pregnancy to find an abortionist, thus becoming complicit in the act. The authors would still allow doctors to decline to assist suicides—for now—but only because that practice is not yet accepted generally within the medical community. If euthanasia ever does becomes generally accepted—as it is now in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada—under the Emanuel/Stahl rule, dissenting physicians would be required to participate in homicide.

Emanuel and Stahl would drive noncooperating doctors out of medicine (my emphasis):

Health care professionals who are unwilling to accept these limits have two choices: select an area of medicine, such as radiology, that will not put them in situations that conflict with their personal morality or, if there is no such area, leave the profession.

Shattering medical conscience rights would also dissuade those who hold officially unwanted values—orthodox Catholics and other Christians, Jews, Muslims, and pro-lifers—from entering medical school in the first place. There is a method to this madness: The goal is to cleanse healthcare of all those who would dare to practice medicine in accord with sanctity-of-life moral viewpoints.

The attacks on conscience have already moved beyond mere intellectual advocacy. The government of Ontario, Canada is on the verge of requiring doctors either to euthanize or to refer all legally qualified patients. In Victoria, Australia, all physicians must either perform an abortion when asked or find an abortionist for the patient. One doctor has been disciplined under the law for refusing to refer for a sex-selective abortion. In Washington, a small pharmacy chain owned by a Christian family failed in its attempt to be excused from a regulation requiring all legal prescriptions to be dispensed, with a specific provision precluding conscience exemptions. The chain now faces a requirement to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pill, against the owners’ religious beliefs. In Vermont, a regulation obligates all doctors to discuss assisted suicide with their terminally ill patients as an end-of-life option, even if they are morally opposed. Litigation to stay this forced speech has, so far, been unavailing.

The ACLU recently commenced a campaign of litigation against Catholic hospitals that adhere to the Church’s moral teaching. For example, it sued a Catholic hospital that refused to sterilize a woman in conjunction with her caesarian section. That lawsuit failed. Undaunted, the supposed guardians of civil liberties—except the free exercise of religion, it seems—recently brought a case against a Catholic hospital for refusing to permit doctors to perform an elective hysterectomy as part of a sex-reassignment surgery.

There is a reason that moral diversity is under attack in health care. When doctors refuse to abort a fetus, participate in assisted suicide, excise healthy organs, or otherwise follow their consciences about morally contentious matters, they send a powerful message: Just because a medical act is legal doesn’t make it right. Such a clarion witness is intolerable to those who want to weaponize medicine to impose secular individualistic and utilitarian values on all of society.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human ExceptionalismHe is also a consultant to the Patients Rights Council.

Hormonal Contraceptives: Do We Really Know What We Think We Know?



If you’ve read any of my posts, you know that this is one of the questions that pervades my work. Do we really know what we think we know? More often than not, the answer is no. Upon examination, what we hold true falls short. In the field of pharmaceutical medicine, where money plays an enormous role in determining what is known about a particular drug, finding the real and honest truth about a medication is difficult and sometimes impossible. Hormonal contraception, because it has been on the market for decades and because as women we really want it to be safe and absent negative side effects, is one of those drugs where what we think we know and what we actually know are two entirely different things.

Over the last few years, we have been commission for a two studies on the safety of hormonal contraceptives. One study, the Real Risk project, ended early due to a loss of funding. As a result, Phase 2 data were never analyzed. (We decided to continue collecting data in the hopes of finding funding to complete the study at some point. We haven’t found the funding yet.) Nevertheless, we learned a lot and what we learned should be public. Slowly, some of that information is making its way into blog posts.

Below is a portion of the final report, covering the history of the pill, a sort of ‘what they knew when’ of side effects. Looking back at the history of the development of the pill and other forms of hormonal contraception, it becomes clear that the health and safety of the female population was not a primary objective. Indeed, more often than not, the serious side effects were ignored, particularly in the US, setting the precedent for the almost total acceptance of the drug’s safety that we see today. As a woman who used hormonal birth control and developed many of the side effects noted by early researchers, side effects that were ignored by my physicians, reading this is eye-opening. If I had known then what I know now, I would have never used this drug.

The History of Birth Control Induced Side Effects

The first case of birth control induced thrombosis, a pulmonary embolism, was reported in 1961, only one year after the drug’s release. This was soon followed by the first contraceptive induced myocardial infarction in 1963. In the years that followed, research groups, primarily in Great Britain, began delineating the risks and mechanisms by which hormonal contraceptives induced the state of hypercoagulability that led to thrombotic events. Much of this research, along with the publication of Barbara Seaman’s book, The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill, formed the impetus for the Nelson Pill Hearings (NPH) in 1970.

Early on, British researchers noted significant changes in blood clotting mechanisms in the women using oral contraceptives compared to those who did not, but also compared to pregnant women. Hormonal birth control, it appeared, increased several pro-clotting factors while simultaneously decreasing anti-clotting factors; changes in hemodynamics that were in many ways, though not entirely, akin to late pregnancy and early postpartum where blood clots are known risks. This was in addition to systemic vessel wall damage that simultaneously set the stage for both clotting and hemorrhage. They also found that clot risk increased over time and was compounded by other variables such as exercise and smoking. In 1967, based upon the results of three studies, the British Medical Research Council issued a preliminary communication that stated:

“The sum of the evidence, however, is so strong that there can be no reasonable doubt that some forms of thromboembolic disorder are associated with oral contraceptives. The association is particularly strong in the group of women with no known medical condition predisposing to thrombosis.”

Politics and Money Rewrite History

These findings, though clearly implicating hormonal contraceptives in thrombosis, became immediately controversial and were all-but-entirely dismissed by American medical societies who argued an inherent difference between British and American women (NPH pages 6222-6259); one that supposedly predisposed British women more strongly towards blood clots than their American counterparts.

Additionally, according to testimony made in the Nelson Pill Hearings, the American Medical Association allowed industry experts to write and publish the early safety statements while simultaneously refusing to publish research and case reports indicative of risk (NPH page 6113). G.D. Searle, one of the early manufacturers of oral contraceptives, went so far as to ‘vote away’ the risk of thrombosis at a medical conference (NPH pages 6108-6133). Sales and marketing materials were designed to dismiss the risk and obfuscate the research (NPH pages 6218-6296). This led American doctors, researchers, and the population as a whole, to presume falsely that the pill was safe and without risks. It bears noting that by failing to publish the evidence implicating the pill in thrombosis and by allowing industry experts to write and publish the safety reports, the American Medical Association set the precedent for what has now become a complete abrogation of scientific and medical ethics, not only regarding contraceptives, but also, for every other drug on the market.

Beyond Thrombosis: System Wide Side Effects

A persistent notion in contraceptive research is that progesterone and estradiol, the two hormones mimicked in contraceptives, are singularly involved with reproduction. What follows is a presumption that these hormones have no impact on other tissues and altering them affects nothing but the intended target. Contrary to this popular belief, these steroid hormones are not solely involved in reproduction. Hormone receptors are distributed throughout the brain and the body, on every organ, in every tissue, and in every fluid. Hormones, thus, regulate every physiological system. When synthetic hormones bind to endogenous or native hormone receptors, they effectively override the body’s natural regulatory functions in ways we have yet to comprehend fully. It is not unexpected then that the use of hormonal contraceptives would have broad based effects. Thus, in addition to the higher incidence of thrombotic events in otherwise healthy women, physicians and researchers testifying at the hearings noted clear associations between the use of hormonal contraceptives and a broad array of disease processes. Some of those effects are highlighted below.

Metabolic Disturbances

Perhaps some of the least well-recognized effects of these hormones include those to a woman’s general metabolism. Hormonal birth control induces wide ranging metabolic disturbances in insulin and glucose regulation, lipid control, and in heart rate, rhythm and pressure leading to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. One researcher testified accordingly:

“There are more than 50 ways in which the metabolic functions of the body are modified, and to say therefore that normal physiological function has been demonstrated in the years of oral contraception is to overlook a very large amount of information (Dr. Victor Wynn, NPH page 6311).”

“When I say these changes occur, I mean they occur in everybody, more in some than in others, but no person entirely escapes from the metabolic influence of these compounds. It is merely that some manifest the changes more obviously than others (Dr. Victor Wynn, NPH page 6303).”

And yet another said:

“These alterations, which have been demonstrated, include changes in carbohydrate metabolism, fat metabolism, protein metabolism, and the endocrine, liver, nervous and vascular system, among others. The findings are straightforward and reproducible (Dr. Hilton Salhanick, NPH pages 6382).”

Impaired Reproductive Capacity

Impaired reproductive capacity, likely due to the pill’s effects on the pituitary gland and its ability to prevent ovulation was noted (Dr. James Whitelaw, NPH pages 6009-6019). Case studies presented by the physicians indicated use of hormonal birth control often delayed fertility while the body re-adjusted to its non-pill state. In at least 1-2% of the women who used the pill, however, it caused permanent infertility. Ovulation never resumed. Additionally, women who used the pill were more prone to miscarriage, stillbirth, and chromosomal abnormalities in the offspring; abnormalities that as one researcher indicated were:

“…completely incompatible with live birth…”

Sadly, much of this research was disregarded and there has been very little work since. In fact, the use of oral contraceptives to regulate cycles in advance of fertility treatment is now commonplace. Despite research suggesting it is contraindicated.

Beyond the immediate effects to fertility and reproduction, early researchers postulated potential transgenerational effects. That is, when women use hormonal contraceptives, ovulation is suppressed unnaturally and germ cell damage to the ovarian follicles is possible: damage that may not only express itself in the first generation, but also in subsequent generations, e.g. in her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“An unequivocal abnormality produced by estrogen-progestogen is the suppression of ovulation itself. It is only reasonable to consider the ultimate fate of the ovum that would have been normally released from the ovary. We do not know whether the ovum dies or survives. If it survives, is it altered in any way?”


One of the most damning, but again disregarded and disputed, findings of the early researchers was the association between hormonal birth control and cancer. Researchers testifying at the Nelson Pill Hearings noted that cancer developed in all animal models tested when oral contraceptives were administered. In fact, the use of synthetic estrogens is banned in animal husbandry in Europe because it causes cancer in the animals and also in the workers. In the US, there is no such ban, owing partly to the decades delay in cancer onset but mostly to industry lobbying.

“I think here is the proper place to point out that when we talk about the pill being used by 18 million people in the prime of life throughout the world, we are in fact considering an internal pollution, the extent of which is not yet known, but the nature of which is indeed known. And we are threatening the destruction of a large segment of one of our most precious natural resources, the young women of our society (Dr. J. Harold Williams, NPH pages 6219).”


Liver function, because of its role in drug metabolism and detoxification, is inevitably altered by the use of any medication. To what extent the liver is impacted, is a key safety issue reviewed during drug approval considerations. As one might expect, hormonal contraceptives degrade liver function. At the hearings, researchers testified to four key changes in liver function.

  • A 40% reduction in the ability to clear sulfobromophatalein (a compound used to test liver function)
  • An increase in liver enzyme activity (a marker of liver damage) in 20% of the women who use hormonal contraceptives
  • Jaundice in 1 in 10,000 women that subsided after discontinuation of OC (Dr. Philip Corfman, NPH Pages 6391-6426)
  • Reduction in total plasma protein level (Dr. William Spellacy, NPH Pages 6426-6445)

Overall, the changes in liver function were summed up as follows:

“The immediate effects include the alteration of several of the laboratory tests used in medical diagnoses. Aggravation of existing liver disease, if present, to the point where jaundice may be seen has also been shown. There is no answer to the query of will permanent liver damage result from the use of the oral contraceptives.”

We have yet to answer the question of permanent damage, although a large study in 1997 suggests that liver damage abates upon cessation.

Disturbed Immune Function

One of the most commonly recognized but simultaneously disregarded effects of hormonal contraception include disturbances in immune function. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are significantly more common in women than men, especially in women who use hormonal contraceptives. Once again, the onset and increased incidence post-pill use was noted as soon as these medications hit the market, but because of the complexity of these diseases, all but disregarded. Early researchers noted that with new onset cases once contraceptive use ceased, symptoms resolved and most patients remained symptom free for at least the 2.5 years of the study period (Dr. Giles Boles, NPH pages 6086-6108). In recent years, awareness of this connection has increased somewhat.

Over the past three years we have seen 22 young women who… after beginning oral contraceptives developed [arthritic symptoms]. The joint swelling was usually limited to the hands. On cessation of the oral contraceptive, the symptoms disappeared… We specifically inquire as to the use of oral contraceptives in all young women we see with rheumatic complaints…”

In addition to the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases associated with hormonal contraception, other immune system changes were noted, and again, dismissed.

The Pill, by interfering with the natural secretions of the vagina, leaves women susceptible to a variety of infections, including syphilis and gonorrhea. Those who use the Pill develop VD, other sexually transmitted infections, and vaginitis twice as often as the female population as a whole.”

Namely, the use of hormonal contraception increases the incidence of bacterial and fungal infections and the risk for developing sexually transmitted diseases. More recently, researchers have identified the mechanisms by which contraceptives initiate these disease processes – via changes in cervical immune composition that increase a woman’s vulnerability to infection.  Hormonal contraceptives also predispose women to persistent MRSA infections.

Psychiatric Illness

Perhaps one of the more disturbing findings regarding hormonal contraceptives is their role in new onset psychiatric illness and their capacity to induce suicide. In the original trials, at least one women committed suicide while taking the pill. Her case, along with at least 18 other deaths (Dr. Edmond Kassouf, NPH pages 6108-6133), was omitted in the reports filed to the FDA.

“There is considerable incidence of mild to moderate psychiatric morbidity [disease] associated with the use of combination oral contraceptive agents… In three of the four studies, there seems to be agreement that those who have required psychiatric care in the past will be more at risk for the development of morbidity, including psychosis. One study also suggests that there may be some increase in the depth of illness the longer the medication is taken (Dr. Francis Kane, NPH page 6457).”

“The emotional or psychiatric problems are the complications which seem to me to have the most serious potential danger. Three patients have stated that they were desperately afraid that they were going to kill themselves… After the pills were omitted, the depression and suicidal fears of the three patients disappeared, as did the depression of the other patients (Dr. John McCain, NPH page 6473).”

“It is disturbing to consider the patients on the pills whose depression may have ended in suicide and/or homicide with no recognition of any association with the contraceptive pills… Personality changes could be a factor in other conditions such as automobile accidents and divorces (Dr. John McCain, NPH page 6473).”

Despite the early research, connections between hormonal contraceptives and mental health have been largely ignored. In fact, since the nineties, hormonal contraceptives have been marketed specifically for depression and anxiety in direct opposition to the data suggesting these medications cause and/or exacerbated psychiatric illness. As recently as three years ago, an epidemiological study suggested,

“…a protective association between hormonal contraceptive use and depressive symptoms, as well as suicide attempts, in a population-based sample of young, sexually active US women.”

Fortunately, the tide appears to be changing. Fifty years after the release of these medications and after generations of women have complained of serious mental health issues while using hormonal contraceptives, a large study published definitive data indicating that hormonal contraceptives did indeed induce depression, especially in adolescents. No doubt, industry sponsored studies will surface shortly and contradict these findings.

Hormonal Contraceptives Today

Today, 80% of American women will use hormonal contraception at some point in their lives, mostly oblivious to their risks for thrombosis or any other of the side effects. Indeed, most women and physicians consider the side effects extremely rare, if they consider them at all. This is largely due to the fact that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and other medical associations routinely claim they are safe. At any given time, 62% of women of reproductive age are using at least one contraceptive method. In contrast to the perceived lack of side effects, the numbers tell a different story. Fully 60% of women will cease using hormonal birth control within six months of initiation because of side effects and 30% will try up to five different types of hormonal contraceptives, switching between brands to temper side effects.  Given that most brands may vary in name only, switching between brands is often a fruitless endeavor, something prescribing physicians seem not to appreciate.

That there are over 200 brands currently available on the market worldwide, suggests an abundance of options, but from a pharmacological standpoint, not much has changed in hormonal contraceptive technology over the last half century. The predominant estrogen used in contraceptives remains the same as was developed decades ago, a compound called ethinyl estradiol (EE2). With the exception of the fourth generation progestins, the progestins used in modern contraceptives involve only slight modifications to the original compounds. Even the ‘newer’ delivery methods, like the intrauterine device and the cervical ring, were developed decades ago, in the 1950s and 1960s. For all practical purposes, contraceptive technology remains as it was over half a century ago. Therefore, today’s contraceptives carry as many or more of the side effects and risks as their predecessors did.

Only now, our increased familiarity with these drugs has fostered a deeply ingrained but false sense of safety. Phrases suggesting that after 50 years on the market these are among ‘the most studied medications’ pepper the literature. When in fact, these medications were never studied properly before their release:

“Evidently, for whatever reasons, there is no sound body of scientific studies concerning these possible effects available today, a situation which I regard as scandalous. If we proceed in the future as we have in the past, we will continue to stumble from one tentative and inadequately supported conclusion to another, always relying on data which come to hand, and which were not designed for the purpose (Dr. Paul Meier, NPH pages 6548-6560).”

And they have not been studied conclusively since. For all intents and purposes, safety issues associated with hormonal birth control remain largely under-investigated and unrecognized. What research exists generally favors commercial interests, and if we’re honest, our interests as women. We want easy, safe and effective birth. We need it and so we ignore the side effects and ignore any research that confirms our suspicions. We allow ourselves to accept the risks. Maybe it’s time we didn’t. Maybe it’s time we dig in and find out what is really going on and then fix the problems.

Share your Story

If you have a birth control story, please consider sharing it on Hormones Matter.

Chastity, family life and the future of religious freedom

The family is the most sexual of all organizations. But given the sexual chaos of modern times, new families who want to succeed in their task of child-raising must quickly find a community of other families of like mind.  They are most likely to find such families at their place of worship if the sexuality taught there is a family and child centered sexuality.

The data show (see chart below) that central to family sexuality is an ethos of chastity, necessary for marital unity and stability and out of which flow myriad benefits.  Without chastity the family is no more a thriving family than a monastery without celibacy is a monastery.

Chastity is now central to the public argument for religious freedom because such families need their freedom of association and freedom of action to raise the next generation to live the same strong family life.  They need freedom to teach their own way of life: marriage till death do us part, and raising their children to do the same.  Much as the Amish fought and won their freedom of association and way of life, so too other religious communities are now finding they too must fight and win a freedom which they had assumed was theirs without asking.  It had been so.  It is no longer.

If we want our religious freedom we have to be able to make the argument for teaching chastity as a way of life, not as a “risk reduction strategy”.  Chaste family life is easy to defend in the public debate because it is far superior to all other ways, by any measure of human thriving.  Teenagers (who have yet to experience life and learn its hard lessons by experience) need to understand that there are lifelong consequences for “sowing wild oats”, as the most important chart in all the social sciences makes clear:

They need to be very familiar with the data (with the lessons of life experience) that the totally monogamous couple (only sexual partner ever: their spouse) is the least likely to divorce – by far. And that one third of women who have had only one other sexual partner (normally before marriage) are likely to divorce within five years, and that those who had two such sexual partners (other than their husband – again most likely before marriage) have a fifty percent chance of divorce within five years — and that half of their children will be raised without their father present.

Chastity may be difficult but it is central to a family-centered life.  And it is also central to justice for children.  There is no free lunch on this issue, not for teenagers, adults nor for society itself.

If churches and parents do not make the strongest case possible for the chastity-based family (and on its fruits and benefits it is an easy case to make) they will not get their religious freedom.

The rest of society may think such families are weird (despite the data) but they will likely respect them for the path they have chosen.

The future of the First Amendment rests on the freedom to teach the centrality of chaste family life.   We will not win I if we are ambivalent or shy.

Pat Fagan is the director of the Marriage and Religion Research Initiative at The Catholic University of America. He is publisher and editor of Republished from the MARRI blog with permission.

2017 Pro-Life Women’s Conference Was Amazing. Here’s What Happened

Friday Night

Secular Pro-Life’s conference booth was set up just a few yards away from our friends at Rehumanize International, with whom I also shared a hotel. Quick plug: their latest project is Create | Encounter, which wants your visual art, creative writing, musical works, etc. related to any and all life issues. Submissions are due July 31; details here.

The program opened with Lacey Buchanan, who spoke about her experience as a mother. Her son, Christian, has an extremely rare disability. Among other things, his eyes never developed. She struggled with people who’ve stared at Christian, made insensitive comments, and even attacked her as a “bad mother” for not aborting him! But the family has persevered, and the more she publicly advocates for him, the better it’s gotten. She had a wonderful message about the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Next up was a panel of women who had all received poor prenatal diagnoses. Some did indeed give birth to children with disabilities; in other cases, the doctors turned out to be wrong. All of them described immense pressure from their doctors to abort, even after repeated refusals. One asked for a note to be placed in her chart that she was keeping the baby and did not want to hear any more abortion talk, to no avail. The most moving story came from a woman who received a scary initial test result. She asked the doctor for more testing, and was told “The only test I’ll perform on your daughter is an autopsy.” After sharing this, she asked her daughter to please stand—she was there attending the conference, 19 years old and perfectly healthy!

After lunch, there was a panel of pro-life physicians. Much of the discussion focused on natural family planning (NFP): what it is, and what it isn’t. Specifically, it is not the rhythm method, and it is not just having a period tracker app on your phone! Effective natural family planning methods use personal indicators like cervical mucous and temperature readings to determine when you are ovulating, as opposed to when the “average” woman in an “average” cycle is ovulating. NFP allows women to either avoid pregnancy or try to conceive, and charting also offers doctors insight into underlying hormonal issues that may be treatable. The panelists were religious, and opposed hormonal birth control for a mix of medical and religious reasons, but noted that NFP can benefit women from all walks of life. This led to the memorable line “Atheists have cervical mucous too!” (Can confirm.)

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Two breakout sessions were scheduled for the afternoon. All the speakers and topics looked interesting, and it was hard to pick. For the first session, I attended a presentation on pregnancy loss from a woman who had experienced seven miscarriages/stillbirths at various gestations. She shared that she was well supported when she lost a child later in pregnancy; people brought her meals and sent sympathy cards and listened. But that was not the case when she miscarried early, and that hurt. The pro-life community needs to step up in those situations, and we shouldn’t expect women’s grief to follow the classic linear “seven stages.” Life is much messier than that.

The second breakout session I attended focused on sex trafficking. The speaker was a social worker who shared (with names changed, of course) how her clients, often young teens, were recruited into prostitution rings through a combination of seemingly legitimate job opportunities, manipulation, and force or the threat of force. Helpful tip for pregnancy care centers: trafficked women and girls are often supervised by a handler, except when they are in the restroom. When a client goes to the ladies room to take a pregnancy test, give her the opportunity to tell you what is going on. This can be accomplished with a sign and a message box. Naturally the message box must be checked after each pregnancy test.

The morning’s keynote speaker was Melissa Ohden, who shared her story of surviving a saline abortion, growing up in a loving adoptive home, and eventually reconnecting with her birth mother—who, as it turned out, had been coerced into the abortion by her mother, Melissa’s grandmother. You can read more about Melissa’s incredible journey here.

Next up was a panel entitled “Engaging the Black Community.” Much of it was church-focused, which is not surprising given the large role Black churches play in social and political life. But here’s an important takeaway for the pro-life movement in general: be mindful of Martin Luther King Day! It often falls on or near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when we have memorial events and rallies planned. But Planned Parenthood is attending the MLK events, and if we aren’t, we’re giving the abortion industry a free pass. Schedule accordingly.

The final event of the conference was also one of the most moving. Seven birth mothers shared their pregnancy and adoption stories. They were incredibly diverse; some never considered abortion, others wavered back and forth, and others were dead set on abortion until a pro-lifer changed their mind. One woman was incarcerated during her pregnancy and gave birth in shackles, a terribly inhumane practice that everyone, whether pro-life or pro-choice, should oppose. There were many adoptive parents and adoptees in the audience, and the Q&A was truly beautiful.

Throughout the weekend, I had the opportunity to network with like-minded women from all over the country, and I also got to hold three different babies. This is the most mom- and child-friendly conference on the planet. Whenever a mom needed a break, there was a line of people volunteering for a shift. If you want to see what pro-life means in practice, this is it! The date for the 2018 conference is TBD (I assume it will be sometime in the summer), but the location has been announced: St. Louis, MO. See you there!

LifeNews Note: Kelsey Hazzard is the head of Secular Pro-Life and this article originally appeared at its blog.

Catholics should take the time to understand Church teaching on contraception

Fr. Shenan Boquet

June 26, 2017 (HLI) — Most Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on contraception not because they’ve carefully considered it but because they’ve never had to do so.

When someone hears that the Catholic Church has a teaching about contraception, a common response is “Why?” Since this crucial teaching is so rarely given in venues where everyday Catholics can hear and consider it, there is widespread ignorance of, and therefore rejection of, the Church’s teaching.

This teaching dates back many centuries but was reiterated and expanded in Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae in 1968. Following continued confusion and widespread rejection of this teaching, Pope John Paul II shed further light on this teaching in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae and a series of Wednesday audiences over several years, which has come to be known as The Theology of the Body. Here we offer a brief introduction to a beautiful teaching that we believe, when understood, will be embraced with great joy.

Why is the Church always saying ‘no?’

The Church has the solemn responsibility to uphold truth, and to do so with love. She has a vested interest in the good of both Catholics and non-Catholics, so she seeks the “common good” of all in society. Her teaching regarding contraception is made “in the light of an integral vision of man and of his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and eternal vocation” (Humanae Vitae 7).

We have been made by God and for God, and the Church proposes the truths necessary to aid men and women to live this life so that they might enjoy eternal life with Him. The Church teaches because she loves everyone who, as Scripture reminds us, is set free by the truth both in this life and for the next.

Despite what most people hear about Church teaching through other sources – that it is just a bunch of “nos” to good things – the Church’s teaching about contraception is based on her teaching about sexuality and marriage, which is primarily an affirmation of great goods to which the Church proclaims a resounding “Yes!”

The true meaning of marriage

Scripture affirms that marriage is not a man-made institution, but an institution of nature that has been divinely ordained by God. Marriage is a beautiful lifelong covenantal relationship between one man and one woman, and it is exclusive and open to new life. It is “the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love” and the marriage between the baptized has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament (HV 8).

Through marriage, spouses enrich one another’s lives through union in love, and so that their mutual love might give rise to new life. This is expressed beautifully in the Book of Genesis by Adam who, upon seeing Eve, exclaimed “at last this one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh;” and our understanding of marriage is enriched further by God’s first command to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:28)

What does the Church teach about contraception?

The marital act is and must always remain open to new life, therefore the union of spouses through conjugal love must never be deliberately closed to life or love. As Pope Paul VI explained, “The Church … teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” (HV 12). In God’s divine plan, the marital act unites spouses in love and gives rise to new life. God has established an “inseparable connection” between these unitive and procreative purposes of marital love, so when a couple rejects one of these beautiful purposes of their sexual union they harm their spouse and their marriage, even if their intentions are good.

Contraceptive intercourse involves a choice against the possibility of new life so as to prevent pregnancy. It deliberately makes infertile a sexual act within marriage that should be fertile. The couple who freely and knowingly does this commits a mortal sin.

Contraception is “anti-life”

Contraception contributes to a culture of death by creating an environment in which children are treated as an unwelcome burden, an impediment to personal goals, or even worse, an enemy to be avoided at all costs. This negativity toward new life which is part and parcel of the “contraceptive mentality,” and is why so many children conceived are considered an “accident,” “unplanned,” or “unwanted.”

Blessed John Paul II noted that contraception and abortion are “fruits of the same tree.” “Indeed,” he writes, “the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected” (Evangelium Vitae 13). Recent studies have confirmed something that may seem counterintuitive, but was actually predicted by the leadership of Planned Parenthood as contraception achieved wider acceptance: higher rates of contraception use do not reduce demand for abortion but rather lead to an increase in abortion because abortion becomes a sort of “Plan C” after a woman becomes unexpectedly pregnant following the type of behavior that naturally leads to pregnancy.(i) This self-ignorance affects women’s identity, and distorts male/female relationships as sex becomes detached from its natural end, becoming meaningless and leading toward an attitude of using the other person for one’s own enjoyment.

It’s not just about potential new life, but about love

Recall that Jesus revealed to us on the Cross that the true and full nature of love is that love is self-gift. Husbands and wives are called to foster love and unity within their marriage. Every couple seeks marriage precisely because they ardently desire to love deeply and fully. But love is more than a feeling: it is a choice and it is hard. Instead of facilitating love, contraception actually makes it more difficult to love.

In The Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II explains that we communicate with our bodies. Marital intercourse (without contraceptives) allows for spouses to fully give and receive one another – there are no barriers, there is no withholding of self from one’s beloved. With contraceptive intercourse, however couples reject one another’s fertility, protecting themselves from one another, and withholding a full gift of self. John Paul emphasized that “(W)hen the conjugal act is deprived of its inner truth because it is deprived artificially of its procreative capacity, it also ceases to be an act of love.” Contraceptive intercourse is incapable of the complete gift of self that married couples truly desire. Ultimately, contraception is opposed to love.

Does this mean we have to breed like rabbits?

Not at all. Following the teaching about “responsible parenthood” in Humanae Vitae and previous Church documents, John Paul stressed that, “unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood on this point, as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. But one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so.” When couples have serious reasons to postpone having children they may do so by abstaining from intercourse periodically by using “Natural Family Planning” or “Fertility Awareness.”

Spouses must prayerfully and responsibly decide when to have children, while always maintaining a generous commitment to being open to new life and complete love.

Further reading

Humanae Vitae, encyclical of Pope Paul VI

Evangelium Vitae, encyclical of Pope John Paul II

The Theology of the Body, teaching of Pope John Paul II

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially 2360 – 2379

(i) Malcolm Potts, M.D., Medical Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, in 1973. Quoted in Andrew Scholberg, “The Abortionists and Planned Parenthood: Familiar Bedfellows.” International Review of Natural Family Planning, Winter 1980, page 298.

Reprinted with permission from Human Life International.

Offensive, anti-child ad: Kids are annoying, use birth control

André Schutten

June 22, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — I was scrolling through the news on our publicly funded CBC website the other day and, when I clicked on one video for a story, I had to first watch a 15-second advertisement (this one funded by the government of Ontario). The ad may seem tame enough to the average viewer, but it was shocking to me and left me with many different questions and thoughts.

A few thoughts swimming through my head after watching the ad:

  1. What in the world is a cash-strapped province doing advertising birth control? How much did they spend on creating and on airing this ad?
  2. Why advertise one choice over another when it comes to having children? Why sell (which is what ads do) childlessness over having and nurturing children? (I’m not saying the government needs to do the latter, just questioning why they chose to do the former at the expense of the latter.)
  3. Connected with selling childlessness, the attitude toward children in this ad is pretty deplorable. I can’t imagine anyone with children or hoping for children even dreaming up such an ad. Take it from a guy who, with my wife, desires to have more kids: this ad is pretty offensive. It plays to a terribly self-centered attitude of being able to mindlessly scroll your phone and sip your latte without a care in the world, and certainly without what this ad portrays as the annoyance and hassle of kids.
  4. Not only is Ontario broke, its fertility rate is terribly low, well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per couple. The social and economic costs of this demographic trend are severe. It appears that the current government is either blind to these costs or willing to promote the trend despite the costs.
  5. My colleague suggested I leave this one alone, but I do wonder: Why did they choose to portray the child as red-haired? This minority happens to suffer much higher rates of bullying than other kids. The casting of a ginger child struck me as an intentional choice to emphasize the point of the ad, which is: “You don’t want one of these!”

The message of the ad is pretty obvious: “Isn’t life gonna suck with a kid? Make sure you get your birth control!” Basically the opposite of “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127).

I find the ad tasteless, a waste of money, displaying terrible moral judgment, and well outside the role of government. I hope we don’t see any more of these ads. If you agree, maybe send your Ontario MPP a respectful note.



Caught on film: Doctor said it was ‘ok’ if their Trisomy baby didn’t eat. They didn’t listen.

DES MOINES, Iowa, June 21, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Katie Buck felt that any moment she was about to completely lose it as she sat in the hospital room listening to the devastating words of the doctor. The 29-year-old mother suddenly felt as if she was living somebody else’s life, or like she was having a bad dream from which she could not wake up. Her precious newborn baby was going to die. The baby she had carried within her womb for 37 weeks and who she had born into the world just days ago would no longer be there for her to hold, to love, to kiss. She felt her world come crashing down around her.

It was just three days prior to this that doctors had decided to induce Katie, even though it was three weeks before her due date. Scans had revealed that her little baby was not developing properly. He was too small. And to make matters worse, the flow of blood through his umbilical cord that delivered life-giving nourishment and oxygen was somehow restricted.

Alexander Buck shortly after his birth.

While the birth went well, Katie and her husband Ryan could immediately tell that not all was right with their little boy, whom they had named Alexander before he was born.

“He had some low-set ears. He had an extra thumb. The shape of his head was a little off,” Katie told LifeSiteNews. “You could just tell that something was going on.”

The parents had refused genetic testing earlier in the pregnancy on principle, believing it to be discriminatory against disabled people. They had decided to love and respect any baby that came to them, whether the baby had problems or not.

Blood tests were carried out on the tiny four-and-a-half pound Alexander, but the results were not fast coming. And then, three days after his December 8 birth, the doctor walked into Katie’s room to tell her what the tests had found.

‘Not in his best interest’

Alexander had Trisomy 18, a condition where there are three copies of chromosome 18 instead of the normal two. The condition often disrupts the baby’s normal pattern of development, often causing life-threatening problems including defects in the heart, lungs, kidneys as well as other developmental problems. A large majority of babies with this condition die within the first year.

As she sat now in the Des Moines hospital room listening to the doctor, Katie was having trouble taking it all in. Words became jumbled. It was all too surreal. She asked the doctor to wait until her husband arrived to finish what he had to say.

When Ryan arrived, he found his wife totally distraught. Katie pleaded with him to go with the doctor into another room to discuss Alexander’s condition. When Ryan asked the doctor if he could record what he was about to hear so that his wife could listen to it once she had calmed down, the doctor consented.

What Ryan caught the doctor saying on film six months ago when Alexander was born continues to anger him and his wife to this very day.

“He’s got increased risk of having significant heart defects…rib, kidney abnormalities, inter-abdominal tumors. All of those are not super important because some ninety percent of those kids don’t make it past the first month of age,” the doctor said.

Offering no help and giving no hope, but suggesting death as the only possible outcome for the baby, the doctor continued:

“We can look at his heart and run all kinds of tests, but no matter what his heart shows, heart surgery is not in his best interest, okay? Why put him through a big surgery, cause pain, discomfort, extend his stay if we can get him home? And, his life expectancy isn’t going to be lengthened by a heart surgery.”

Ryan, like his wife, was deeply shaken by the doctor’s words.

“Is there, like, a chance? Is it really that bleak?” he asked.

“It really is,” the doctor replied. “Ninety percent don’t make it through the first year. Most will die in the first month.”

The doctor then went on to tell the shaken father that it didn’t matter if Alexander ate or not, suggesting that if he didn’t eat, “that’s ok too.”

“There is, how do I say it, very little limiting you from going home tomorrow,” he said. “Bottle feed him, breast feed him. Whatever he takes, great. Whatever he doesn’t take, that’s ok too,” the doctor said.

When the dad asked about the possibility of a feeding tube, the doctor immediately questioned the move.

Not giving up

Despite the doctor’s bleak prognosis, the parents did not intend to give up on their baby so easily. They stayed in the hospital another two weeks so that Alexander could receive a feeding tube and so that other tests could be continued.

“He was going to have a full tummy, no matter what happened to him,” Katie said.

But at each new twist or turn, the couple found roadblocks to Alexander’s care. For instance, despite the baby having a heart murmur that was easily picked up during his constant monitoring, no one suggested that he undergo a heart scan to determine the extent of the problem. When Alexander was having trouble breathing, no one suggested that he be hooked up to the oxygen machine.

“Alex actually needed oxygen and they didn’t give him any. We didn’t realize he needed it. We assumed he was ok, that it was perhaps a normal variant for him being born so small. But later we learned that he actually suffered from not having enough oxygen in his blood,” Katie said.

Doctors even suggested that it would be pointless to treat the baby’s case of jaundice. The parents had to constantly argue for tests or treatment that would have been offered to babies with normal chromosomes. When the parents suggested certain tests that might be done on Alexander to determined the extent of his problems, the doctor would say to them, “I just wouldn’t.”

Despite many odds, Alexander was eventually stable enough to go home. But the doctor’s dire words about the boy’s inevitable death kept ringing in the parents’ ears. At every moment, they expected their son to leave them.

“The doctor was the expert,” Katie said. “I really believed him. I wasn’t in a state of denial. I really believed Alex was going to die.”

But Alexander didn’t die.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Time went by and Alexander kept on not only living and growing, but thriving beyond everyone’s expectations.

Alexander Buck full of smiles for the camera.

“It was scary at first because you live as if death is on your doorstep. We were very apprehensive. It was very hard to enjoy a lot of our time with him. We would often think whether or not this was the last time we were going to give him a bath, or was this the last time I was going to breast-feed him, or was this the last time he was going to play with his brother,” Katie said.

When Katie and Ryan saw that Alexander was staying put for the time being, they realized that they needed to stop living in the future of the “what if” and live in the present of the “here and now.”

“Alex has taught me so much about not worrying about tomorrow. All the Scriptures about not worrying about tomorrow, they are true,” said Katie.

It has now been over six months since Alexander returned home from the hospital. The parents have learned how to change his feeding tube, how to administer oxygen, and how to tend for their baby who needs a little more care than other babies.

But most of all, they have learn an important lesson from their son about the beauty of life itself, no matter what kind of package it comes in.

“He rolls, he coos, he smiles. He is very social. He makes a lot of eye contact,” Katie said.

One day the parents were bolstered by a surprise visit in their home from Sen. Rick Santorum, whose eight-year-old daughter Bella also has Trisomy 18. Santorum talked about what a joy Bella is to their family and encouraged Ryan and Katie by telling them that they were doing the right thing.

Sen. Rick Santorum visits the Buck family.

Santorum gave the family a copy of Bella’s Gift, a book published in 2014 that tells the story of life with their special-needs youngest child. In the book, he inscribed this message:

“To Alex – You are blessed to be born to a family that loves you unconditionally. May God continue to  bless you as you bless others who cross your path. Your friend, Rick Santorum.”

Katie remembers being encouraged by Santorum’s visit and his words.

Rick Santorum’s note to Alexander Buck.

“Alex will continue to surprise you. No matter what happens, everything will be ok,” she remembers him saying.

Full of surprises

And Alexander continues to be full of surprises.

“To be honest, his future is still uncertain, but that is frankly true for any of us. But, there is nothing in his immediate future that is life-threatening,” Katie said.

Katie said that the experience has taught her to be more cautious about what the doctor says, especially when it involves the life of a baby with chromosomal abnormalities.

“There is a pattern of tactics that these doctors use to steer these babies towards death,” she said, adding, “But, they can’t predict the future. They don’t have crystal balls. They can’t say for sure whether your child will live or die.”

Katie was able to tell the doctor to his face what she thought about his attitude toward her son.

“I told him that he made me very uncomfortable when he recommended that we not feed Alex. And I told him that he should strongly consider giving parents all of the options and information, rather than his own opinion, because we are the ones who need to live with these decisions at the end of the day,” she recalled.

Katie and Ryan Buck with their two sons Alexander and Daniel.

Katie and Alex believe that the medical community needs to change its perceptive on babies who have extra chromosomes.

“The belief has been perpetuated that Trisomy 18 means that affected babies are ‘incompatible with life.’ And that is just not true,” said Katie.

“Even if they don’t survive for very long, that is the only life that they have, and it should be respected, treated with dignity, most of all loved, and given just as much care as any other baby would receive. Our children deserve no less,” she said.

Editor’s note: The Buck family has created a gofundme page here to help cover the cost of Alexander’s care. They have also created a facebook page.