The development of the Birth Control Pill: The man most prominently associated with the development and introduction of the pill, John Rock, was an Irish Catholic doctor from Boston. Dr. Rock didn’t set out to make waves with the Vatican; in fact, he was sure that his invention would gain approval from the Vatican and finally allow Catholics to practice safe and effective family planning. The Vatican reconsidered their ban on all artificial contraception: Soon after the introduction of the pill (in 1963), the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control was established by the Catholic Church. It included 72 members from five continents (including 16 theologians, 13 physicians and five women without medical credentials, with an executive committee of 16 bishops, including seven cardinals). The Commission voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the Catholic Church rescind its ban on contraception. Pope Paul VI, however, rejected the Commission’s recommendation. Instead he proclaimed the teaching on contraception unchanged and unchangeable (he did this in the release of the Humanae Vitae in 1968). Did Catholic women obey the Pope’s ban on contraception? A survey just one year later, in 1989, found that 44% of Catholic women (who were regular churchgoers) were currently using artificial contraception. In 1974, 83% of Catholics said they disagreed with the Pope’s stance on birth control. By 1999, nearly 80 percent of Catholics believed that a person could be a good Catholic without obeying the church hierarchy’s teaching on birth control. A 2005 nationwide poll by Harris Interactive showed that 90% of Catholics supported the use of birth control. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention 2002 National Survey of Family Growth revealed that 97% of American Catholic women over age 18 have used a banned form of contraception, which is the same percentage as the general population. HIV/AIDS prevention & the Catholic ban on contraception: The Catholic ban on contraception has led to abortion, death and disability (eg. fistulas) for women in impoverished Catholic countries denied the ability to limit pregnancies. The Catholic hierarchy has attempted to block access to emergency contraception for women, particularly in Latin America, where it has influence at the highest levels of government. The Catholic ban on contraception may have also influenced the spread of AIDS. Despite scientific evidence that condoms are a critical piece of AIDS-prevention efforts, the Vatican has refused to relax the ban on contraceptives. The Vatican has used its status at the UN to impose its anti-contraception policies, frustrating the development of comprehensive global family planning and anti-AIDS programs. There has been a growing recognition that abstinence is unrealistic as a primary AIDS strategy in Africa, a continent where there are significant power discrepancies between men and women and many wives are powerless to refuse sex with their husbands, even if they suspect they have been unfaithful. Read more on the Catholic ban on artificial contraception and it’s consequences here and here.
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