A Pro-Choicer Who Defends NFP

In the introduction to her book Sweetening the Pill, Holly Grigg-Spall makes it clear in that she is politically pro-choice and has no problem with various “barrier” methods of contraception – condoms, diaphragms, spermicides, etc. But she is spearheading a movement against the contraceptive pill and its derivatives (Depo-Provera injections, Nexplanon implants, NuvaRing vaginal rings, the Mirena hormonal IUD, etc.), and not only with her book, but her website, interviews, and an upcoming documentary due for release in 2016.

What is her motivation for going so blatantly against the grain of Planned Parenthood, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, U.S. and U.N. agencies, and the others promoting cutting-edge scientific contraception throughout the world?

She mentions physical health risks, seldom discussed by the mainstream media – the fact that the contraceptive pill significantly increases women’s risk of developing heart disease and breast, cervical and liver cancers; that hormonal contraceptives are ranked by the World Health Organization as a class-one carcinogen alongside tobacco and asbestos; that the hormonal injection Depo-Provera has a black-box warning that it is detrimental to the bone health of teen girls. And so forth.

But her main concern has to do with the mental and emotional effects of the pill. She cites a 1998 study from the University of North Carolina, a 2001 Kinsey Institute study, a 2005 Monash University study, and 2008 Lakehead University research, all of which show a consensus regarding the negative impact of hormonal contraceptives on emotional well-being.

Contraceptive pills are used as alternative treatments for physical ailments such as heavy bleeding, irregular periods, period pain, endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). But why, she asks, should perfectly healthy women start taking a medication, often from teen years to menopause, which has innumerable side effects – on thyroid, adrenalin, blood glucose, and testosterone levels, etc.?

Basically, what the pill does is to use artificial hormones to put young fertile women into a state in which they will eventually never ovulate (even with the “false periods” that accompany many medications) and will experience the physiological changes common to women in menopause – infertility, increased risk for stroke and breast cancer, insulin resistance, immuno-suppression, lessening of libido, etc.

In other words, we are witnessing the strange phenomenon of women meticulously careful about diet, exercise, healthy living, and often opting for a “natural” lifestyle – but deciding to take a prescription drug that uses artificial hormones to stop all menstruation, adding to the pollution of the waterways – not to mention the disruption of their own physiology.

Holly Grigg-Spall
Ms. Grigg-Spall

The common motivation for enduring all this is, of course, fear of pregnancy. Holly Grigg-Spall, using hormonal contraceptives consistently from teen years into her late twenties, sums up her experience: migraines, constant bleeding and nausea, frequent changes of prescriptions, but never wanting to stop, because “I was petrified of pregnancy.”

The pressures in our day are enormous – parents (like Barak Obama) terrified that their teenage daughters might be “punished” with childbirth, doctors (even pediatricians) assuring the “health” of their young female patients, a modern economy needing women to be free for work without “female issues” – not to mention partners who want wives or girlfriends to be available 24/7 for sex.

Even women experiencing clear negative side effects from the pill may hesitate to stop using them because of the “good” aspects. Teenagers using contraceptives discover not only that their heavy periods stop, but also that acne starts disappearing, their hair is less greasy. And continuing into their twenties and thirties, says Holly Grigg-Spall, “We are free of messy periods, we may have clearer skin, be slimmer, we may have bigger breasts, and we are supposedly rid of troublesome PMS.”

Stopping the pill may also result in “withdrawal” symptoms similar to cessation from other drugs – insomnia, irritability, etc. And women who want to become pregnant may find that it takes many months to start ovulating normally after years on the pill. But for women who decide they no longer want to live like a man, without periods, in perpetual menopause (and with various symptoms of menopause), withdrawal may open up new vistas.

Holly Grigg-Spall cites her experience, which coincided with experiences of many others:

“On the pill I was stagnant – physically, mentally and emotionally. I would get stuck in both feelings and thoughts. I could not think clearly. I could not progress. Off the pill, my body is going through changes throughout the month. I experience the waves and peaks, the ebbs and flows and all of this moves me. This movement is energizing and galvanizing. . . .When I came off the pill it was like the lights got switched back on for me. I soon had the capacity to feel deeply and fully in a way I had not felt for many years and with that I had the capacity to truly connect.”

Her solution, as an alternative to hormonal contraceptives, is Natural Family Planning (NFP), after the pattern of the “Creighton method,” but without its “oppressive” Catholic motivations – in particular, the secular counterparts, Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM), such as the “Justisse method.” She cites statistics from comprehensive studies at the University of Heidelberg and elsewhere showing that FAM is as effective as the pill. She spreads the good news about emancipation from the pill on her website, in an instruction manual (Coming off the Pill: a Guide), and, as mentioned above, with a documentary movie. She also plugs a new smartphone and tablet “app” – Kindara, as a “sophisticated and comprehensive” means of tracking one’s periods.

A Catholic proponent of NFP would prefer to see an emphasis on the natural law, and would view the problems chronicled by Grigg-Spall as empirical manifestations of flouting that law. But like St. Thomas Aquinas, who emphasized that we should appreciate the truth no matter what its source, we should regard this movement, which focuses on one of the most potent snares of the sexual revolution, as a step in the right direction.

Howard Kainz, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.