Women around the world struggle with the moral and practical implications of the Catholic Church's opposition to birth control, and now researchers are arguing that the church should actually encourage some women to go on the Pill. Not because all women should be able to have control over their reproductive health, but because not having babies may be horribly detrimental to the health of nuns.
According to CNN, a new article in the journal The Lancet argues that nuns should be on birth control because it would reduce their cancer risk. The Australian researchers point out that regulations set by the Vatican in 1968 say that, "the Church in no way regards as unlawful therapeutic means considered necessary to cure organic diseases, even though they also have a contraceptive effect." Since nuns have vowed not to engage in any sexy, sinful business there's no concern that they'll be using the pill primarily to prevent pregnancy, not treat conditions like heavy menstrual bleeding or endometriosis.
There are roughly 95,000 nuns around the world and the researcher say that they're paying "a terrible price for their chastity," and "should be free to use the contraceptive pill to protect against the hazards of nulliparity." Apparently, there's a medical term for women who've never had children, and you can totally use it to single out and shame friends and acquaintances! Aside from being a branded a weirdo by society, the terrible consequences of nulliparity include increased risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers. Nuns aren't getting pregnant or breastfeeding, and research has shown having more menstrual cycles increases cancer risk. Two recent studies found the pill cuts the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers and doesn't increase the risk of breast cancer. As far back as the 16the century, doctors noted that nuns had higher rates of the "accursed pest," or breast cancer. The Lancet piece says:
"If the Catholic Church could make the oral contraceptive pill freely available to all its nuns, it would reduce the risk of those accursed pests, cancer of the ovary and uterus, and give nuns' plight the recognition it deserves."
Dr. Lisa Flowers of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University School of Medicine, said that while the Lancet article is interesting, there isn't enough evidence to say that all nuns should start popping Ortho Tri-Cyclen. She says all women should have a talk with their doctor about their health and family history of cancer to determine if being on the pill could help them. She adds:
"We probably need to change our mindset of the oral contraceptive pill, not to think of it only as an effective tool to prevent pregnancy, but also in its ability to protect from cancers and to protect women from some of the discomforts and medical problems that they have associated with menstruation."
Protecting nuns is one thing, but we can't just accept that women use the pill for a variety of health benefits. If we removed the sexy stigma surrounding the pill, how would we know who we should judge for trying to control their babymaking, not just their heavy flow?
Image via Elena Ray/Shutterstock.