A Catholic sister writes questionable things about contraception

The other day, a Catholic friend of mine shared a blog post written by one Sister Clare Hunter. Sister Clare is a contributing writer to the Diocese of Arlington’s Encourage & Teach blog. The blog’s mission is to “encourage all readers to find out more about their faith and to embrace the fullness of the truth that the Catholic Church offers.” But the truth Sr. Clare penned in her post wasn’t very… well, truthful, so I left a comment. As of this writing, Sister Clare hasn’t responded (I will update this post if she does). Regardless, I decided that since there’s a good amount of information in the comment, I should share it here as well.

In her post, Sister Clare argues against the benefits of contraception, asserting that contraception hasn’t helped us decrease abortion rates, or increase women’s health or happiness. She also implies – citing a rather dubious non-medical source – that birth control pills are unhealthy for women, or at least that they do more harm than good. If you’ve read any of the research on contraception, you know that these claims aren’t true.

I’ll leave it up to readers to take a look at Sister Clare’s full post for context. Without further ado, here is the comment I left her (slightly edited after proofreading). Note that my comment starts with a quote by Sister Clare about how contraception hasn’t decreased abortion rates:

I am BEGGING someone to help me wrap my mind around this anomaly! …WHY, WHY, do we still have 1.2 million abortions a year? 52% of pregnancies are unintended.

I can help you with that!

It’s simple, really – there are still lots of abortions because 95% of all unintended pregnancies in the US are a result of women who do not use contraceptives, or who use them inconsistently. The women who do use contraception correctly and consistently account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies (scroll down to the first graph here).

The reason many women don’t use contraception or don’t use it correctly is because they don’t have the money, don’t have adequate knowledge about contraceptives, and don’t have access to effective contraceptive services (See Guttmacher’s report here.)

When women are given the tools to regulate their reproduction effectively, they make the choice to use those tools. As a result, unintended pregnancy rates and abortion rates drop sharply. A study done in the St. Louis area gave 9,000 women and teens their choice of no-cost birth control. A year later, this had cut abortion rates by 62-78% of the national rate.

So it really is simple. If you want to decrease unintended pregnancy and abortion rates, contraception and comprehensive sex education are the way to do it.

As for your concerns about women’s health, it seems like you’re less well-informed than the women who are using the pill. Oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) offer a host of health benefits in addition to contraception. Fourteen percent of OCP users rely on the pill exclusively for noncontraceptive purposes, including 762,000 women who’ve never had sex.

I agree that women (nay, everyone!) should be duly informed of the risks of any drug or medical procedure they may undergo. But they should be informed by doctors and other relevant experts – not the questionable sources pushing their own health products that you linked to.

Really, this entire post is very misinformed. It seems like you’re just throwing up whatever arguments you can to support the view you already hold, rather than doing your research about contraception or anything else. And it makes me angry when I think of the college students who might be taking your advice.

Though I didn’t comment on it, Sister Clare also argued in her post that overpopulation isn’t really an issue (and therefore contraception isn’t important to control it). I’m no expert on overpopulation, but my understanding is that, globally, it is an issue. And what did Sister Clare cite as a source for her claim? A pro-life organization called the Population Research Institute. I’m sure they aren’t biased in any way!

The facts are in: contraception is important, and contraception works. The only people who claim otherwise are those with a conflict of interest, who have to ignore certain facts in order to reach conclusions they were wedded to from the get-go.



Filed under Catholic Church, Reproductive Rights, Women's Issues

7 responses to “A Catholic sister writes questionable things about contraception

  1. Kevin

    Hey! Great response, great info, and great job being a reasonable human being.

    One quick comment though; our global population isn’t really an issue per se, the problem is the amount of the population consuming the amount of resources they do. The rich (read 99% of the developed world) consume too much and produce too much waste.

    So technically, it’s the rate at which the advantaged population consumes resources, and that there’s so many of them.

    Though I doubt she meant it that way.

  2. Angela

    I’m sorry…but this headline must be a joke, right? This Catholic nun is upholding the teaching of the Catholic Church. You may disagree with her conclusions, as you are free to do, but she is upholding the conclusion you would expect, as she is, after all, a Catholic nun…

    Following is several paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church explaining the position on contraception and a very brief explanation of the reasons why the Church considers it to harm, rather than help, the love between a man and a woman.
    The fecundity of marriage
    Catechism of the Catholic Church
    2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is “on the side of life,”151 teaches that “it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.”152 “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”153

    2367 Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God.154 “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility.”155

    2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality:

    When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts, criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.156
    2369 “By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its orientation toward man’s exalted vocation to parenthood.”157

    2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:159

    Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.160
    2371 “Let all be convinced that human life and the duty of transmitting it are not limited by the horizons of this life only: their true evaluation and full significance can be understood only in reference to man’s eternal destiny.”161

    2372 The state has a responsibility for its citizens’ well-being. In this capacity it is legitimate for it to intervene to orient the demography of the population. This can be done by means of objective and respectful information, but certainly not by authoritarian, coercive measures. The state may not legitimately usurp the initiative of spouses, who have the primary responsibility for the procreation and education of their children.162 In this area, it is not authorized to employ means contrary to the moral law.

    • Hello, Angela. I assure you, the title of this post was no joke! Sister Clare did indeed write some questionable things about contraception. Regardless of what the catholic bishops want to say about contraception, there are facts to the matter. Sister Clare seemed not to know any of the facts – about the causes of abortion, the medical benefits of birth control, and about whether women will choose to use contraceptives if given the chance. That is the problem. It’s interesting that you would say, Angela, that the Sister was “upholding the conclusion you would expect.” Do you expect people to uphold a conclusion even if the facts are against it? Surely this is what we shouldn’t do.

  3. John

    I find it funny that you accuse a Catholic nun citing proliferation sources as being biased, then you go on to cite statistics from the Guttmacher Institute! Really!?

    • So you agree that if contraception really does decrease abortion rates, it would be a good thing to know?

      • John

        Hi Tim,
        First pardon my typo (proliferation vs. Prolife) in my previous post. Gotta love IOS spellchecker.
        To your point, I suggest you check your premises. Your supposition that the MEANS of birth control may be morally licit because it has a positive ENDS in that it reduces abortion is highly specious. To argue with statistics provided by Guttmacher would be absurd. To cite Wikipedia regarding their background:
        “The Guttmacher Institute in 1968 was founded as the Center for Family Planning Program Development, a semi-autonomous division of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Center was renamed in memory of Alan Frank Guttmacher, an Ob/Gyn and former president of Planned Parenthood, and the Guttmacher Institute became an independent, non-profit corporation in 1977 under the direction of Frederick S. Jaffe.[3]”

        So, right off the bat, your citing statistics from an organization that openly advocates unrestricted abortion while profiting from its provision, while referring to Sr. Clare as biased is unworthy of response. Nonsense.

        Now, does the ends justify the means, I caveat my response by saying, “I fervently don’t buy it!” If I were to accept your premise that birth control reduces abortion, I would still say that use of birth control for the purpose of misusing the sacred union of spouses (or non spouses) is intrinsically evil. You can’t use evil to justify evil. Fruit of a poison tree.
        Now, to this notion that proper use of birth control reduces abortion- boloney! Did Guttmacher include as abortions all the souls, who by their mothers use of OCPs or “emergency contraceptives” were aborted when their post-conception ovums were denied implantation? In the view of anyone who believes life begins at conception (a premise with widely accepted scientific basis), these drugs you tout as morally licit are causing the silent death and callous, unthoughtful murder of millions. How many Nobel laureates, doctors, great minds will never be born, due to the use of drugs that cause their mothers womb to reject them?
        It is what it is, Tim.

      • John, as far as I understand it, Guttmacher’s research is accurate and well-respected. I haven’t seen any professional or scientific organizations find fault with it. Of course if there any specific flaws you know of, I’d be happy to listen.

        As for your statements about what is “moral,” I think you and I have very different ideas of what that word means (I have written a bit about morality on this blog). You should be aware that my conception of morality differs greatly from your own, so your arguments there aren’t really going to stick with me.

        I will say that I share your aversion to murder, John. That’s not suprising, since I’m sure we both care about other people. Have you thought about why you care? In my case, I empathize with the thoughts, feelings, wishes, and plans of others. People have rich mental lives, full of pleasures and pains. I know what that feels like, and so I’m happy if others have more of the pleasure and less of the pain.

        The upshot, however, is that embryos and fetuses have none of this mental life. The embryo/fetus simply isn’t on the same level of development as the fully-born person – in the vast majority of cases, not even close (89% of abortions are done within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy). When I think of the fact that there is a thinking, feeling mother involved in this, with plans for the future and probably other children to take care of, the fact that I care about her more than anyone else is not something I regret.

        Lastly, you should note that life does not begin at conception; it begins before it. Sperm and ova are very much alive.

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