…and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

Parents, teachers, and religious folk may not always agree on all aspects of child-rearing, but it’s likely that they’ll all agree that “tell the truth” is an important rule. Perhaps that’s why it’s so disappointing when the grown-ups, the role models, and the moral compasses of this world choose to lie to impressionable children to further their own beliefs, or to gain.

Recently, a friend of mine tweeted a link to an article in the Irish Times about the Knock Summer Festival, a Catholic Youth Festival with prayer, reflection, talks, song, and a whole host of wholesome and religious activities. The article itself is not particularly noteworthy, featuring benign quotes from various organisers interspersed with local history facts and comments on some of the activities that took place. What struck me, however, were the comments made by one teenage attendee regarding a talk given by one Patrick Reynolds, entitled Love and Relationships, quoted below for clarity:

They have just been at the workshop on relationships given by a lay Christian, Pat Reynolds. Reynolds is Glaswegian, funny, engaging and deeply sceptical about the reliability of both the condom and the contraceptive pill, issuing several statistics on safety and health risks along with the story of his life as a single lad prior to meeting his wife in Knock five years ago. His talk is deeply personal: “We have three beautiful children with us and one in heaven.” And while nothing is hammered home, his talk subtly nudges listeners towards thinking about attitudes towards contraception and sex.

“The relationship yoke, my friends would have enjoyed that,” Tania says. “I am 16 now and I was thinking of going on the pill and wouldn’t touch it after that. No point in getting the pill if it is going to kill you.”

I have searched long and wide, but have not been able to find a video or transcript of this talk (although I did find Patrick on facebook and intend to ask him about the talk), but based on his position as a contraception skeptic, and the comments about it, it seems that the talk highly discouraged the use of contraception. More than this, the talk seems to have highlighted, and over-emphasised, the risks associated with the pill, such that teenagers attending the talk left with the impression that it was somehow lethal.  I wish this were an isolated case, but even a cursory internet search will find numerous websites and Christian and Catholic groups preaching about contraception, and in many cases, the information given is more than a little biased.

Websites such as The Pill Kills are not uncommon, and seem to primarily engage in the same tactics used by many woo-peddling charlatans previously featured on this blog – focus only on the statistics which support what you want to say, and ignore those which do not. Proponents of NFP (Natural Family Planning) quote figures of 99.5% success in preventing unwanted pregnancy, which they say is much more effective than the pill. Only sometimes is this declaration accompanied by the “when used correctly” caveat, and almost never is it displayed alongside the actual success rates (i.e. those based on typical, rather than perfect, use). In that instance, we can turn to a more neutral party to discover that NFP has success rates of just 73-75% – a stark contrast from the 99% ideal and 92% actual effectiveness of the Pill. Studies have found that NFP methods are only effective with continuous intensive coaching and monthly review – a tall order when compared to taking a daily tablet, or a monthly injection.

When not focusing on the relative success and failure rates of the different contraceptive methods versus NFP, these groups highlight the medical risks associated with taking the pill. In this respect, they are technically correct (the pill does have some potential side effects) but morally questionable. Every medication has side effects, and in order to market medications, the list of side effects must accompany the medication. However, when these lists are displayed, they are categorised by relative risk (e.g. common side effects to extremely rare side effects), and most often with the percentage risk too. This is to enable a patient to make an informed choice about the medication, and displaying these risks without the full information is purposely sensational, and more than a little underhanded.

As we are discussing side effects, I would also like to briefly discuss the side effects of another related condition:

  • Anemia
  • Lumbar pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Constipation
  • Edema
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Pelvic Girdle Pain
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Round Ligament Pain
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Varicose Veins
  • Diabetes
  • Death
  • and many more…

What else could these young innocent children have to face with so many risks? Pregnancy. In addition to the above risks which are associated with every pregnancy (including pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, and a number of conditions affecting the foetus, to name a few conditions not listed above), a number of specific concerns relate to teenage pregnancy. Incidences of low birth weight and premature birth are higher in younger mothers, and they are less likely to seek and receive prenatal care, putting them at higher risk for a number of life-threatening pregnancy-related conditions. Risk of death as a result of pregnancy is twice as great for mothers between 15-19 than for those who are 20-24, and it can be up to 5 times higher for girls who are between 10 and 14. Obstructed labour, often caused by an underdeveloped pelvis, is extremely common, leading to Caesarean section (which itself carries all the risks of major surgery), and the risk of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia is higher in young women who are pregnant.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to present only one side of the coin – the risks of pregnancy, for many, do not outshine the potential gains, and for most pregnancies, there will be few, or no, problems. Presenting biased information that shows only one side, however, is exactly what these organisations and people are engaging in, and it’s deceitful and wrong. If you want children to understand your belief that contraception shouldn’t be used, or is a sin, do so by explaining it properly, rather than lying to them, exaggerating the risks, and discouraging them from seeking contraception at all.

If you look hard enough, it’s easy to find enough information to support almost any argument, but I have yet to find compelling information that would make me support outright deceit on the part of those supposed to nurture and teach impressionable young minds. The pill probably won’t kill you; ignorance, on the other hand, just might.