By FR. GEORGE WELZBACHER
Forty years have passed since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first authorized physicians to prescribe a drug that would subvert the institution of motherhood. May 9, 1960, was the day on which the authorization was granted; it was, by ironic coincidence, the day after Mothers’ Day. The drug, of course, was Enovid, a/k/a “the pill.”
Developed by Dr. Gregory Pincus and Dr. John Rock and manufactured by the Searle Pharmaceutical company, “the pill” was hailed by feminists at the time as a great liberator, providing women for the first time in history with a level playing field, allowing women as equals to compete with men in the work force and in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. For women who preferred a more formal and lasting commitment rather than the one-night stand, marriage itself, so went the prevailing wisdom, would be transformed by the new freedom from the encumbrance of unwanted children.
Every child would henceforth be a welcomed child and the fear — or the reality — of unwanted children would no longer put marriages under stress.
There were, to be sure, certain naysayers who did not line up promptly to salute the pill as an unmixed ‘benefaction. The Catholic Church, after careful study, found oral contraceptives to be nothing more than a more sophisticated method of frustrating God’s plan for the upbuilding of mankind.
Even certain secular thinkers were expressing concern at the likelihood of the collapse of sexual guidelines that had proved to be beneficial over time. Some political economists were fretting in public about the pill’s potential for catastrophic reduction in population levels, though such were gainsaid by the larger throngs of alarmist “experts” who feared that the Earth had already far too many people for the planet’s limited resources to sustain. And some physicians could be heard muttering in the corner about the pill’s potentially deleterious effects on women’s health.
But these demurrers were in the minority. The crowd was shouting: “Three cheers for the pill!”
Looking back from our vantage point today, we can see that there was reason indeed for second thoughts about the pill. In its original form, the pill had a dangerously high concentration of synthetic variants of progesterone and estrogen. That such was the case is attested by the fact that current forms in use today have less than a hundredth of the estrogen dosage found in the original form of the pill. Even at the time of the pill’s introduction, astute observers took note of the fact that while many physicians were assuring the public that the pill was perfectly safe, not a few of those physicians were loath to recommend the use of this medication to their own wives.
In a commemorative article in The New York Times (May 9 issue), Health reporter Jane Brody writes, “For the first time millions of young, healthy women were taking a potent drug every day, raising legitimate concerns about the drug-induced health risk. . . . And, as predicted, serious, even fatal, complications did occur among users of oral contraceptives, especially among women who smoked or were over 35 and those who used the early high-dose pills. These problems prompted a host of warnings and stimulated research that resulted in safer products containing far smaller hormone doses.”
Brody goes on to comment, however, that even the mini-doses available today are by no means utterly risk-free. “The pill today is sold with an insert mandated by the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) and filled with . . . facts, figures, and warnings that . . . women . . . should know if they wish to avoid becoming a statistic. Blood clots, which can result in heart attacks, strokes, thrombophlebitis, pulmonary embolism, or vision-impairing eye damage, are the most common serious side effects and are most likely to occur in women who smoke and in older women. A smoker in her middle to late 20s is seven times as likely to die as a non-smoker from the pill-related clots, and the older the woman, the more smoking increases her risk if she also takes the pill.
“Women who have already had a clot-related disorder are advised not to take the pill. Women who have had cancers of the breast, lining of the uterus (endometrium), cervix, or vagina are advised not to take the pill, since it is possible that the hormones it contains could stimulate the growth of such cancers. . . . While there is at present no clear evidence that the pill increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, women taking the pill who have strong family histories of breast cancer or those who have had breast nodules or abnormal mammograms should be monitored closely by a doctor.”
Thus the risk to a woman’s physical health present in the use of oral contraceptives is by no means negligible even today. But the moral and social and even economic damage wrought by the pill is equally disturbing. Today every nation in Europe is rapidly aging as the number of children drops well below — in the case of Russia, drops far below — the number needed just to preserve the numerical status quo, let alone to maintain a vigorous growth in the economy.
What masks the situation in the United States is massive immigration. On the moral front, the pill has vastly popularized the “playboy philosophy” among men. So many men in the age of the pill now look upon women as little more than casual accomplices in sensual satisfaction, accomplices to be nonchalantly discarded as fresh accomplices come upon the scene. A woman’s dignity as potentially a mother, to be revered by her children and by her faithful husband, is swept away.
And if, against expectation, a child is conceived from such casual liaisons, this turn of events is now thought to be the woman’s “fault”; it is accordingly her responsibility to provide a “solution” for the “problem,” either by aborting the child or by rearing it on her own.
The liberated male admits no obligation: “If you had taken the pill we wouldn’t have this problem” is his likely retort as he heads out the door.
The moral harm wrought by the pill within marriage has been similarly calamitous. Our national divorce rate of 50 percent is the predictable outcome of the prevailing mindset in which, thanks to the pill, the humble and complete gift of oneself to one’s spouse is replaced by exploitation of the other in self-centered satisfaction in the impeded marriage act. Living side by side with another person soon becomes intolerable in the absence of mutual respect. And when one regards one’s partner as mainly a means to one’s own selfish ends, mutual respect will wither and die.
To regard another person as a means to an end is to reduce that person to the status of a thing, an instrument to be manipulated for one’s own advantage. One can offer another person no greater insult. That is precisely what contraception does. Accordingly contraception erodes the foundations of a stable and happy marriage.
The most destructive impact of contraception, however, is what it does to one’s relationship with God. The pill frustrates the natural order by telling a biochemical lie. The hormonal content of the pill sends a woman’s body a false signal to the effect that she has already conceived. Nature being thus deceived, ovulation is suppressed and actual conception becomes impossible as long as the false signal is maintained. Thus the basis of the pill’s effectiveness in frustrating the natural order is cleverly orchestrated mendacity. As such, it carries the family features of the “Father of Lies.”
To reject in any fashion the natural order governing human relations is to reject the order’s author, Almighty God. To reject that order in a serious matter is to separate oneself from God. Since human life is preeminently sacred, to misuse the sources of human life is to sin in a serious matter, i.e., to commit a mortal sin. Contraceptive misuse of sexual power is accordingly seriously sinful. In thus separating the soul from God, contraception empties the soul of grace and of that fullness of peace that is the companion of grace, the peace that God wishes each soul to possess, to possess already in this life.
Far worse, contraception, in separating the soul from God, places the soul in danger of losing God for eternity.
Taken all in all, and in each point severally, the Age of the Pill has been a disaster.