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Our readers asked:

Can I use birth control for medical reasons and not to prevent pregnancy?
I am a thirty-something woman who is single and chaste. I do however, suffer from uncomfortable menstrual periods and was prescribed birth control by my gynecologist...since I am not married and engaged in any sexual activity, there is no chance of my contraceptive blocking life...does the Church have an official position on the use of birth control for medical reasons NOT involving actual conception of life?

Fr. Joe Answers:

The short answer to your question is: you are taking the medication prescribed by your doctor in order to regulate your menstrual cycle and ease your discomfort. The medication is achieving this effect. Neither you or your doctor intends that this medication be used for the purpose of birth control. In your case the situation is made even clearer by the fact that you are not sexually active and do not intend to be so. So your assumption that there is no sin involved in your taking the contraceptive in these circumstances is correct.

Now some background. The Church has a traditional guideline for determining the morality of such an action. It is called “the principle of double effect.” This applies to actions where two effects will follow, one bad and the other good. In order for a person to perform such an action, four conditions must be present:

1. The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.

2. The agent (person performing the act) may not positively will the bad effect but may merely permit it. The bad effect is sincerely not intended.

3. The good effect must be produced directly from the action, not the bad effect.

4. The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for allowing the bad effect.

The sum of these is that the good effect of an action is what is directly willed and the bad effect is an unintended by-product of the action.

In this case your intention is to regulate your cycle and ease your pain. You have no intention to practice birth control, and in fact have every intent to live a chaste life as a single person. Therefore your conscience can be clear!

The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • lalatron

    What happens when she becomes married and sexually active? I was thinking about starting birth control because my period can also be very painful and cause me to get sick and the pill has helped me in the past. I think it may help me the most for my situation. However, I do hope to become married someday and I know that the pill does other things too. What do I do in this case? I feel like I could be sinning because I know that the pill could do what other women use it for. I hope to try to practice NFP with my future husband but I may still be on the pill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/guinevere.s.jacobs Guinevere S Jacobs

    Thank you so much for this, Fr. Joe. I am also a single and chaste woman, battling with monthly agony (polycystic ovarian syndrome as well and endometriosis), and was battling with the Church’s doctrine against contraception – even though contraception would take my pain away, or at least alleviate it a great deal. I do not intend to use the injection as contraception, only as a medical means, and your post really helps calm my fears about going against the Church in any way. God bless.

  • Jenny

    Megan, had similar experience. I found sensible health.com and uses coptis and Chinese bitters for 3 months and got pregnant 3 times. Check it out. God bless.

  • Megan

    Oh, and docs can’t seem to find any other underlying medical issue. So we have been considered to have “unexplained infertility.”
    And we’ve both tried lifestyle alternatives such as changing diet, increasing exercise, reducing stress, etc. To no avail.

  • Megan

    This seems to be quite a current issue.
    Certainly one that speaks to my heart and is very personal.
    Married for 6 years. Haven’t been able to have children. Sought medical testing of all kinds (yes; through Creighton FertilityCare). Have not chosen any ART procedures due to moral, ethical and faith beliefs.
    Did find I have endometriosis; had laparoscopy. Still have had excruciating pain. Doc prescribed birth control pills.
    We deeply desire to have a family naturally, but have been unable to do so.
    So do I take the pills?!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=715850932 Danielle Mascio Kraemer

      it’s up to you, endo can be managed by diet, exercise, acupuncture but it’s not fun to try to get it under control. Birth control doesn’t always make things great and has side effects of its own. Good luck

  • Angie

    I am a 30 something mother of 6. My husband has a kidney disease that has declined his quality of life, lack of ability to work ,lack of abilty to get around quite often. In addition I do to take Paxil, but still deal with PMDD horribly, it is very serious. Could it be a considered ok to take birth control?

  • Joe

    spiritual experts? experts…interesting…

    this religious freedom issue: birth control, hospitals, etc…

    just read the piece about the compromise and it not being good enough…i am fascinated by the outcry…but where was the outcry, the insistence, the demand that priests who violated young boys be prosecuted, removed from the church; the outcry that pastors and bishops and cardinals who said nothing and moved priests around like chess pieces be pushed away from the church, ignoring the crime, the sin…

    where was the outcry about the morality – or lack there of – by the journalists, the experts of the catholic church, demanding any priest in question be held responsible for their actions or lack of action…

    the church battles sperm touches egg is life; priest touching child and ruining a human beings life can be ignored and, in the end, made better with money…

    how can anyone in the church cry out for morality when their church and they were silent about more than one child’s life being destroyed…so Christ like…

    and how many catholic women use birth control…what’s the per cent…seems the flock has more sense than the shepards…

  • Bridget

    Rebekah, this may be 2 months too late, but I know where you are coming from. I am a Catholic, also a nurse practitioner, and I understand the medical implications for birth control. There are many unsympathetic Catholics with opinions on why you should not use birth control for relief of symptoms- and the pain and debilitation is very real.

    However, I have also has polycystic ovarian syndrome- initially controlled with birth control, later I was switched to metformin (a diabetic medication) and my cycles returned to normal- it is also indicated, and I have had better symptom relief.

    Let your doctor know how you feel- the medical guidelines state to start with birth control, but if you are morally opposed, he should be able to help you find alternative. Perhaps a referral to an endocrinologist may be helpful. Talk with your pastor as well, he may be able to offer you some insight to your specific situation.

    It’s odd, if a patient is Jewish or Muslim, we would not use a medication that was Pork based, without question. But for a Catholic patient, we impose progestogens (as the researched medical guidelines state) as a first option without questioning how it influences their personal beliefs.

  • rebekah

    I am concerned about my somewhat more complex situation. I have been married for 16 years, and we have been blessed with two beautiful children. We did use birth control in the past, as I did not fully understand the teachings of our faith. Since, I have insisted on rhythm and abstinence with the full acceptance of God’s will superceding at any time. In fact, recently, we have been wishing we had more children. However, my problem is that I was put on the pill then for severe ovarian cysts and their complex nature and risk to my ovaries. After we had two children, I decided to deal with the risk to my ovaries and potential pregnancy, because we believe in God’s will. However, recently, on top of epilepsy, crohn’s disease, and two previous c-sections (our youngest is 6), the cysts are often debilitating. Today, I had to leave work, see the doctor, get yet another ultrasound to learn that there were two full cysts and one that had ruptured…not to mention a high amount of ketones in my urine. Essentially, my body, at 39, is saying, slow down. The doctor prescribed pain killers, birth controll pills to “surpress my ovaries,” and bed rest. I filled the prescriptions and now don’t know what to do. I will pray for an answer, and I can call our pastor tomorrow about the Catholic way, but I am having trouble sleeping even now. If someone is awake somewhere, please, please help me figure this out. God bless you all.

  • Nfpworks

    This isnt’ the best and most complete answer. Although one’s conscience can be clear, another question to ask is, “Do I really NEED to take the pill?” or “Are there any other options to treat my fertility isseus?” To quote Jason Evert in his Love, Sex & Babies pamphlet (Catholic Answers), “…many of these conditions [endometriosis, ovarian cysts, irregular cycles, cramps, etc.] have alternative remedies without …its adverse side effects,” such as an increase of risk of breast cancer, blood clots, etc. Look into the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, and find a Creighton Teacher near you.

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