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Sex, Birth Control And Religion Are A Complicated Mix November 3, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Drugs, Human Body, Psychology and Behavior, Science and Politics, Tough Stuff.
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Last week, the Pope spoke during an international conference in the Vatican City, where he stated that pharmacists should have the right not to sell medications that they personally believe could block pregnancy or trigger an abortion. The response? Some politicians and pharmacists were outraged at the Pope’s comments. You might be wondering what medications the Pope was talking about? Well, one medication that would be affected is the morning-after pill.

Morning After Pill

Morning-After Pill

You’ve maybe heard about this pill already – either from the Internet, friends, your parents or sexual education classes at school. It can best be summarized as a pill that aims to stop you from becoming pregnant if contraception wasn’t used or if it failed. Actually, the term ‘morning-after’ isn’t totally accurate because the pill can be taken up to 72 hours after sex, although the sooner you take it, the better it works. There are also several myths around the morning-after pill – one of which is that it causes an abortion. If you are already pregnant, the pill won’t cause an abortion. It works prior to pregnancy occurring by preventing your ovaries from releasing an egg and it also works by changing the lining of the womb, which means a fertilized egg can’t be embedded.

When Religion Joins In

Teen Girls The Pope’s comments caused a lot of controversy, in part, because they were taken as an attempt to cut off access to important health services. Livia Turco – the Health Minister – explained how the Pope had the right to encourage young people to be sexually responsible, but that he couldn’t tell professionals such as pharmacists what they could or could not do. By law, a pharmacist must provide a medication that has been prescribed by a doctor.

The Church’s Stance

The Church, however, feels that birth control and abortion are morally wrong and that nothing should stop the occurrence of life, which begins at conception and ends when natural death occurs. What about working professionals who are Catholic? Pharmacists who are practicing Catholics sometimes have asked a colleague to provide the medication. Other times, they find they have to put aside their personal beliefs when they dispense the morning-after pill.

The main controversy with the Pope’s recent comments isn’t even so much that he has his opinion, but more so that he is making statements to health professionals about how to conduct themselves at work. Still, some politicians support the Pope’s right to speak his mind whereas others believe that the Pope is meddling in politics and healthcare – areas he shouldn’t be meddling in at all!

Elsewhere In The World

In places like the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, the morning-after pill is available without a prescription. There are, however, parameters around the availability – such as a person being over 18 in the United States. On top of all that, there is still a lot of controversy around the morning-after pill in countries that allow it to be obtained over the counter. Even though it is currently available without a prescription, that doesn’t mean the law will never change to revert it back to prescription status. The Pope’s influence is significant in terms of the public perception towards contraception as well as how politicians view access to this important form of emergency contraception. This means that his influence isn’t limited just to the Vatican City, but it also spreads to other corners of the world and could, in part, shape laws around the morning-after pill’s availability in your country. What do you think? Is the Pope meddling and should he keep quiet, or do you think he has the right to share his message with the world?

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Comments»

1. Scott Shewchuk - November 3, 2007

Thank you Miss Weird Scientist for bringing this topic up. I think that the religious world should stay away from influencing the minds of not only our politicians, but mostly the young children of today. To me, it’s similar to a parent giving advice to their young ones. The children feel that if they don’t do what mom and dad say they will somehow disappoint them. As well the parents think the children aren’t doing the right thing if they don’t follow their lead. The pope is a respected man throughout the world, and people usually listen to him and that may sway some people’s decisions.
Keep up the good work!

2. Miss Weird Scientist - November 4, 2007

Good point, Scott. When someone with a great deal of influence and power makes strong statements about an issue – there can be a lot of pressure to agree and make policies that support the stance. With religion – the effect is amplified – because there is that assumption by many people that a religious leader is someone of high morality. At the same time, what about free speech? Or is this an acceptable limitation that should be placed on free speech?

3. judyb12 - November 4, 2007

I really don’t understand the hubbub caused by the pope’s statement. I mean, he’s the pope, for goodness sake. Don’t we already know that Catholicism does not condone the use of contraception? The fact that he made this statement ‘to health professionals about how to conduct themselves at work’ is immaterial, in my opinion.

I’m not Catholic, and i don’t agree with the Church’s stance on contraception, especially the increasing conservatism demonstrated by J-P II in his last few years and continued by Benedict now. But, they are entitled to their opinions, and they are entitled to instruct the members of their community as they see fit.

4. Miss Weird Scientist - November 4, 2007

Judy: I disagree somewhat. I think that given the weighting of the Pope’s statements and his standing in the community, a pharmacist may choose to break the law by refusing to dispense the morning-after pill. Unfortunately, the repercussions could be enormous. Access to the morning-after pill is crucial for many people trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It’s one thing for him to state that he disagrees with the morning-after pill but it’s another to instruct health professionals not to dispense an important medication.

5. Crispy - November 7, 2007

Science and politics make a complicated mix too.

Many people twist scientific facts to fit their politics. For example, calling the “morning-after-pill” a contraceptive is only a half truth. As you mentioned, if it prevents the ovary from releasing an egg, this is contraception. If the egg is released and fertilized, then conception has occurred, and the woman is pregnant, by definition. Terminating the life of the child in-utero, whether chemically or surgically is still called abortion.

The Church and its pontiff have a responsibility to clarify moral issues of the day, so Pope Benedict would be shirking his duty to remain silent on the issue. Since the Church teaches that life begins at conception, it is consistent to describe the M.A.P. as an abortifacient and filling a prescription for it as being complicit in a killing. In this view, protecting life is more important than following orders, or eliminating the “inconvenience” caused by getting pregnant.

The Church provides moral guidance to its members, as to what is right and wrong. If you’re not a member of the Church, you can just ignore what Pope Benedict is saying. In this case, just consider that he has a right to his say, as you have a right to yours.

6. Miss Weird Scientist - November 7, 2007

Crispy: I think that perhaps you believe conception is the same as pregnancy but these are two separately defined terms. According to the British Medical Association, pregnancy commences at implantation. Mind you, I realize this is a debated definition. However, I can respect your belief that anything affecting conception is immoral – you’re totally entitled to that.

Still, your comments about ‘ignoring’ what is said bothered me quite a bit! To shut my eyes at everything that I don’t agree with seems to be in line with apathy. The Pope’s comments are far-reaching and they can and do affect people who are not members of the Church. I felt it was important to mention in the blog entry how it affected both members and non-members as well as the entire public and young people.

I am, however, often clearly defined on which ‘side’ I support and I’m in a bit of a middle ground here. As someone who has a strong belief in free speech, I also sway to the side that believes the Pope has every right to share his views in an international format. Thanks for the comments.

7. Ela - May 4, 2008

The issue is clear – the Pope has a right to say what he wants to Catholics, Catholics have a right to ignore it or heed it, and governments have a right to establish public health policies requiring pharmacists to do their job, which at times may mean dispensing such pills. If pharmacists “conscienciously object” to performing the tasks associated with their profession, they should find another profession.


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