Social Impact of Over-the-Counter “Opill”
“Most abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, most unwanted pregnancies are the result of sexual relationships outside of marriage, and most sexual relationships outside of marriage are facilitated by the availability of contraception. To turn this ‘progression’ around: contraception leads to more extra-marital sexual intercourse, more extra-marital sexual intercourse leads to more unwanted pregnancies; more unwanted pregnancies lead to more abortions.”
― Janet E. Smith, PhD, Why Humanae Vitae Was Right
For the first time ever, a contraceptive pill will be made available over-the-counter in the United States. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) announced on July 13 that they had approved Opill for over-the-counter access.
The decision was touted by the FDA and liberal politicians and media as a significant step forward for “women’s rights.” The manufacturer of the drug, Perrigo, called the FDA’s decision a “milestone” and a “giant leap for women’s empowerment.”
As is typical, the many side effects of taking large doses of artificial hormones to suppress a woman’s natural fertility are scarcely discussed in the reporting on the decision. When they are discussed, they are callously dismissed as simply an “acceptable” trade off.
As the manufacturer of Opill notes, taking the drug can result in a variety of side effects, including an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and liver disease. Other typical side effects include headache, nausea, abdominal pian, fatigue and a whole host of other things, many of which (as a statement from the U.S. bishops notes) “include indicators of organ failure.”
However, while some of the FDA advisors did have some concerns about the health impacts of the drug, they expressed their belief that these risks are worth taking. As Karen Murry, deputy director of the FDA’s office of nonprescription drugs, stated: “Overall, the total public health impact of the potential harm . . . is likely outweighed by the probable larger public health impact of prevention of a large number of unintended pregnancies with all their attendant harms.”
Translation: Yes, some women will suffer physical and psychological harms from taking this drug. But enabling consequence-free sex by thwarting the natural outcome of a sexual union is worth it.
Murry’s statement exposes one of the most perverse, and little-remarked-upon aspects of the sexual revolution, and the whole business of contraception.
Note that when Murry refers to the “potential harm” of making Opill available over-the-counter, this is a harm that is borne entirely by women. Men will not be taking Opill. Instead, they will expect their sexual partners to take Opill, so that they can enjoy their partners’ bodies without having to worry about any of the pesky side effects—i.e., pregnancy—that result when a healthy woman’s body functions precisely as it is designed to do.
This is, of course, the dirty secret of the sexual revolution: that it is almost always women who suffer the consequences of the attempt to inaugurate a new era of “consequence-free” sex (as if anything so powerful as sex could ever be “consequence-free”!). It is women who must take the powerful drugs that sterilize their bodies; women who must bear the burden of undergoing the degrading, evil abortions that men expect them to undergo if they do become pregnant “unexpectedly;” and it is women who so often are left raising the children alone, should they reject abortion.
Side Effect #1: More Abortions
However, the physical and psychological burdens borne by women are not likely to be the only side effects of making contraception available over-the-counter. There are at least two other catastrophic side effects of the increased use of contraception. The first of these is a likely increase in abortion.
To many people, this statement seems counter-intuitive. After all, isn’t the purpose of artificial contraception to reduce unplanned pregnancies, and thus the abortion rate?
Well, yes, that is what the manufacturers of these drugs promise their users. However, historically there has been a clear correlation between the introduction of contraception and an increase in abortion rates.
The underlying problem, of course, is that no form of artificial contraception is 100% effective. This means that even with perfect use a certain percentage of users will nevertheless become pregnant. Even more troubling is that Opill is a progestin-only form of contraception (the so-called “mini-pill”), which is reported to have even higher failure rates than the ordinary progestin-estrogen pill. This is in part due to the fact that Opill must be taken at the same time every day. Forget to take a dose, and the drug’s effectiveness can drop.
Making Opill available over-the-counter means that even teen girls will be able to purchase this form of contraception, without having to let their doctor or parents know. They are then more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, in the false belief that they are “protected.” However, should they—as normal teens are likely to do—forget a dose, there is a high likelihood that they will become pregnant. At that point, there is a tragically high likelihood that they will end up in the abortion mill—one more statistic in our country’s sordid history of treating preborn children as a dispensable side effect of a contraception failure.
This is the logic of contraception identified by Janet E. Smith, PhD, in the quotation at the beginning of this article. The danger of actually increasing unplanned pregnancies, and thus abortions, by making Opill available over-the-counter is something that was highlighted in a joint statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Medical Association, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and the National Association of Catholic Nurses. In the statement, issued last November, these various Catholic organizations noted: “The failure rate of the minipill is higher than that of other hormonal contraceptive methods and will result in many unintended pregnancies, leading to potentially more abortions.”
The bishops also pointed out that drugs like Opill do not protect against sexually transmitted infections. Thus, while providing a false sense of “security” from pregnancy, the easy access to the drug may also encourage girls and women to engage in casual sexual activities that carry other potentially severe physical side effects.
Side Effect #2: A Childless World
The other side effect of making contraception more easily available is likely to be the further exacerbation of our nation’s already catastrophically-low birth rate.
While it is true that contraceptive availability is roughly correlated with increased rates of unplanned pregnancies, it almost always goes hand in hand with a willingness to use abortion as a “last resort,” should contraception fail. Or as one study author put it, when contracepting couples experience unplanned pregnancy, there is an “increased propensity to terminate such pregnancies.”
This is because of what has sometimes been called the “contraceptive mentality”—i.e., the belief that sexual intercourse is primarily about pleasure, and that as such there is a “right” to control its reproductive function. The ultimate effect of the contraceptive mentality is to create the widespread view that children are primarily an annoying and generally avoidable side effect of sex, rather than being the natural outcome of the union of a man and a woman.
This fantastical belief that a couple has a “right” to control fertility, has not only led to untold billions of abortions when contraception fails, but has also produced what demographers have described as a “demographic winter.” This is because childlessness is now the default position for many couples, while those who do have children are under heavy pressure to accept that it is abnormal to have more than one or two children.
Not only is it abnormal, says our society, but it is also profoundly undesirable. Children, after all, are a responsibility, and introduce a sense of unpredictability into life. What is desirable is not responsibility, but rather freedom, power, control, planning, clarity, and security.
Contraception. Abortion. Childlessness.
Our Society’s Self-destruction
Ultimately, we are dealing with a plague.
Fueled by the contraceptive mentality, whole peoples, cultures, and societies are disappearing. Most countries, because of the anti-life and anti-family agendas, are faced with rapidly aging populations. Secular culture, with its insatiable appetite for power and wealth, has rendered humanity impotent. Humanity, by rejecting God and the truth about human persons, by idolizing our own petty desires rather than remaining open to the life-giving and soul-enlarging surprises of God, is culpable for this crime, an act of self-destruction.
The founder of Human Life International, Father Paul Marx, OSB, spoke often about the contraceptive mentality that drives this train. As he once wrote, “Having traveled and worked in 91 countries, I find no country where contraception has not led to abortion, to increasing fornication among the young, to divorce, and to all those other evils we see today that make up the international sex mess.”
Depending on one’s perspective, high fertility rates or a demographic winter are undesirable. One either believes a stable population is salutary or rejects it. Those who hold the latter view are actively working to reduce the world’s population, especially among countries that are treading the “wrong” path. However, what we are seeing is that while the de-population of a country takes many generations, it can be decimated surprisingly quickly. The reduction in fertility rates may seem “reasonable” at first…until suddenly the stone is rolling rapidly down the hill. Suddenly, one day countries like Japan, China, and Italy wake up to realize that they are facing an apocalyptic scenario of a rapidly aging population, without any children to help support that aging population.
At that point, as we are seeing assisted suicide and euthanasia enter the picture: the next stage in the “logic” of the contraceptive mentality.
The short-sighted, naïve “experts” can’t seem to see an inch beyond their nose. All they can see is that the drug they have approved does, in certain circumstances, prevent pregnancy. However, they are incapable of seeing the world from the long view in which the Church operates, in which effects are measured not in hours or days, or at the level of discrete events, but rather in terms of decades and centuries, and at the level of the human person and the society to which he belongs.
Over-the-counter contraception may prevent pregnancies in some cases. But it will further advance our society’s tragic march towards sterility and further erode our society’s response for the dignity of the human person, while further entrenching the systematic exploitation of the bodies of women in the name of the cult of hedonic pleasure and radical, isolating autonomy.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.