May a Catholic Wife use Abortifacient Contraception to Prevent Cancer?

Did you know that the use of chemical contraceptives can decrease a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer? The risk reduction for women who have ever used the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) versus never-users is 27%. And the risk reduction for women who have used OCPs for 10 years or more is greater than 50%. Both those figures have high statistical significance. [Havrilesky et al., Oral contraceptive pills as primary prevention for ovarian cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis; Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 122, n. 1, July 2013.] This article is not from a single study. It is a meta-analysis of 55 studies that met the criteria for inclusion in their analysis. The result of pooling results from multiple studies is higher statistical significance. So the result is reliable.

Is it moral for a married Catholic woman who has regular sexual relations with her spouse to use the Birth Control Pill for the purpose of reducing the risk of ovarian cancer?

Many Catholic priests, theologians, apologists, and online commentators claim that a Catholic married couple can choose to use abortifacient contraception as long as it is for a medical purpose. And they say that the couple can continue to have marital relations, despite the reasonably anticipated deaths of their own prenatal children that will result from these deliberate choices: to use an abortifacient and to have sexual relations. If that were true, then every Catholic couple could justify the use of the BCP while sexually active for the medical purpose of reducing the risk of ovarian cancer.

The usual medical problems that are claimed to justify the use of abortifacient contraception: reducing pain, to regulate cycles, to treat acne. The good of reducing the risk of ovarian cancer is greater than any of these medical purposes.

“In 2018, there will be approximately 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed and 14,070 ovarian cancer deaths in the US. Ovarian cancer accounts for just 2.5% of all female cancer cases, but 5% of cancer deaths because of the disease’s low survival.” []

Since many of the women who are part of the above cancer statistic already use the BCP, they have received the benefit of the reduction. The women who do not take the BCP have a higher risk of ovarian cancer than those who have used it, according to the study. So the benefit will be higher than the quoted statistics indicate.

Is It Moral?

No, it is not. The use of abortifacient contraception while sexually active is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. A good intended end, even a medical purpose, and/or a difficult circumstance, such as increased risk of cancer, does not justify the choice of an intrinsically evil act.

When Catholic spouses choose to use abortifacient contraception and choose to remain sexually active, their deliberate knowing choice has the moral objects of abortion and contraception. If there is a medical purpose, the act does not become justified because that purpose does not remove those evil moral objects. If we consider that the medical purpose is in the object of the act, then the act has three moral objects: the medical purpose, the abortive end, and the contraceptive end. No matter how many good moral objects an act may have, one evil moral object is sufficient to make the act intrinsically evil.

But many Catholic teachers claim that abortifacient contraception is moral for a medical purpose. If that were true, and it is not, but if it were true, then every Catholic wife could use abortifacient contraception while sexually active, and could claim that it is moral.

See my previous posts on this topic. See also my analysis of how many prenatals are killed by the use of abortifacient contraception: more than the number killed by surgical or medical abortions.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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