Vicki Thorn, founder of the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing and Project Rachel, has for decades helped women to heal from broken relationships and the pain of abortion. A corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, her work has also led her to study current research about the biochemistry of sex and the effects of hormonal birth control.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than four out of five women in the United States will use some form of hormonal contraception including pills, patches, implants, injections and intrauterine devices during their fertile years. With this in mind, Thorn recently spoke with Columbia about the dramatic influence that hormonal birth control has had on our society since the Food and Drug Administration first approved the birth control pill in 1960.
Columbia: How do birth control pills and other forms of hormonal contraception work?
Vicki Thorn: They use steroid hormones that impact the pituitary gland, which in turn influences different systems in the body. There are many effects of this chemistry, but the “desired effect” is to stop ovulation. Because the dosage of steroidal hormones is lessened in oral contraceptives, there may still be ovulation breakthrough, which means that conception can still be occurring. But the hormones also aggravate the lining of the uterus, making it inadequate to sustain a newly conceived embryo and thereby preventing implantation. In this way, some forms of contraception can have an abortifacient effect.
Columbia: What are some of the known side effects and health risks for women?
Vicki Thorn: Some of the most serious side effects include the risk of blood clots, pulmonary embolisms, stroke and certain forms of cancer. Both the Depo-Provera shot and the birth control pill can cause bone demineralization and serious nutritional deficiencies. A number of women who are chemically contracepting experience mood swings or depression, and some suffer from migraines. The health risks are numerous, but we are not well informed about them.
Columbia: Does hormonal birth control also adversely affect men’s health or the environment?
Vicki Thorn: Absolutely. We know that in countries around the world where oral contraception has been introduced, male fertility has dropped by about half.
Research that began in England and now continues around the world has found that the water supply has been impacted wherever hormonal contraceptives are used. The estrogen is highly stable in a woman’s body and when it is passed out in the form of waste, it is very difficult to remove from the water system. This has already had a great impact on male fish and birds.
Columbia: How do these drugs affect the way men and women are attracted to each other?
Vicki Thorn: This is a really serious issue. While using the pill, women change what is called pheromone preference. Through nature, God equipped women with the ability to perceive through pheromones which are hormones of affiliation whether or not a man is a biologically good match. If they’re not contracepting, most women are first attracted to a male who is a complement in terms of their immune system. The woman who is chemically contracepting, though, is attracted to a male whose immune system is very much like her own. One speculative reason could be that her body thinks it’s in a pregnant state and now she’s looking for a protector rather than a mate. Whatever the cause, this raises some grave concerns. We are at least three generations into pill usage, affecting the ways partners are attracted to each other. Some believe we now have at least one generation of autoimmune-compromised children because of this.
Moreover, when a woman chooses a partner and gets married while she is taking the pill, she likely won’t find her husband as attractive when she stops using it. This can cause intimacy to dissolve, significantly breaking down marital stability.
As for men, they perceive different things in terms of attraction fertile and infertile periods and pregnancy. Men have a biological response when women are ovulating, because that’s the window for the possibility of procreation. Chemical contraception flatlines this and changes a woman’s scent, communicating that she isn’t fertile. What is this doing to the males around us? It certainly could lead in some cases to the temptation to be unfaithful. A man who is no longer having a regular elevation of interest in his wife, because she is contracepting, may suddenly become very interested in another woman who is not.
The pill also reduces libido, thereby countermanding one of the reasons that people use it.
Columbia: In addition to affecting physical attraction, does the birth control pill also influence how a woman thinks or acts in her daily life?
Vicki Thorn: There is some new research showing that the pill seems to change the way a woman’s brain develops. Under the impact of these steroid hormones, a woman’s brain starts looking a little more like a male brain, and emotional memory is affected. When shown a picture of an accident, men tend to remember the big picture, what happened, whereas women normally remember the fine details. The woman on the pill, though, describes the picture more from the male perspective and seems to lose some of her ability to see the details. Because this is fairly new research, we don’t really know what the long-term implications are.
Columbia: How does the experience of couples who do not use contraception differ from those who do?
Vicki Thorn: A husband and wife who are not using contraception are probably aware of the woman’s cycle using natural family planning, which means they are in dialogue with each other about fertility on an ongoing basis. And every month there is this hormonal dance, as the wife moves to the point of ovulation and the husband has a biological response that elevates his testosterone. I think we were designed by God to be in sync, through this constant hormonal exchange between man and wife.
Columbia: Has the birth control pill and the morning-after pill affected the rate of unwanted pregnancies?
Vicki Thorn: Risk-taking behavior is associated with the belief that sex is a possibility at any time without the consequence of pregnancy. In my experience of working with women who have had abortions, I have found that a great number of them were chemically contracepting at the time they got pregnant. The lie that abounds in our society is that recreational sex is perfectly acceptable because there are all these protective measures the pill, the morning-after pill, abortion which make it simple and easy. But the reality is that they leave a trail of broken hearts that it is beyond anything we could even imagine.
Columbia: Some reports claim that the pill is known to have health benefits and that some doctors regard the pill as “more natural” than menstruation. Is there any truth to these claims?
Vicki Thorn: How can steroid hormones be more natural than a regular menstrual cycle, which is truly in sync with a woman’s body? We have to remember that there are billions of dollars made in chemical contraceptives. Much of the research that is done is funded by people who have a vested monetary interest in the whole contraceptive mindset.
We’re told that it’s good for us and we trust our doctors. But the reality is that it is interfering with normal health. Pharmaceutical treatment usually has to do with illness. But fertility is not illness. Fertility is normal. And pregnancy is not a disease. Maybe the birth control pill could be prescribed for an existing condition under some very rare circumstances, but for the most part it is not good medicine.
Last December, a medical journal article proposed that we ought to be giving chemical contraceptives to all Catholic religious sisters because they never bore children and have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. But by injecting a major steroid into their bodies, it would increase the risk of more common cancers and other serious health problems. What is the true balance point here?
Often, young women will tell me that their doctor prescribed the pill for medicinal purposes, such as to help with acne. But there is no switch in the human body that we can flip and say, “OK, now this pill is only going to deal with acne.” The pill acts in the same fashion within the human body regardless of the intent.
Columbia: What advice would you have for women on the pill?
Vicki Thorn: It is not what it appears to be and it is not good medicine for women. Recognize its impact in terms of relationships. It’s possible to be well informed and make good decisions.
For women who have been on it for a long time, I encourage them to find a physician who is well versed in this information and in fertility care charting or natural family planning. Women who go off the pill may be facing some infertility issues as well. It’s important to find physicians who can give the honest truth and help restore women’s bodies to a normal state.
Women talk about how much better they feel when they get off the pill. They hadn’t realized that the mood swings, depression, weight gain and lack of libido were all related in some way to an innocuous little pill.