It has been many decades since the publication of Humanae Vitae, but it seems more prophetic than ever
The Guardian website carries an article – passionately written and argued – of great interest, dealing with new medical research from Denmark that shows that the pill is linked to depression in women.
There are several thoughts that occur to me. First of all, we do not seem to be a very happy society. Depression seems to be on the increase, and not just in women, but in all sections of society. We constantly hear of a mental health crisis, particularly affecting young people. You don’t have to be a genius to work out that these problems are caused by a change in our circumstances. Life has got substantially more difficult and challenging for all of us. The way we are living, and that includes what we are taking and what we are using, takes its toll on our mental health. Contemporary Britain is no Arcadia. Progress – hormonal contraception, mobile phones, computer screens, cars, a rich diet – has come at a price. Given this, we need to be wary in embracing every new invention, and we should not swallow the progress myth in its entirety.
In fact one has already noticed a reaction to many of the things we once welcomed as entirely benign. You can see this in the numbers of people turning their backs on the produce of modern farming methods, by trying to stick to organic food; also the way others have embraced vegetarianism and even veganism; yet once upon a time eating meat every day was considered a sign of social progress, and only under-developed peoples did not do so.
As with so many other things, so with the pill, and the Guardian is leading the backlash. The pill, like all drugs, carries risks, and it is a drug that no one needs to take, for there are other methods of birth control that do not involve taking drugs. Indeed, there is one method of birth control that is completely natural and has no side effects at all, that immediately springs to the Catholic mind: natural family planning (NFP) and the Billings Method in particular; there are also various gadgets on the market which claim to predict the fertile period accurately, such as this one. Of course, as the article in the Guardian implies, hormonal contraception is something undertaken by women for the convenience of men. NFP is a joint enterprise by the couple, and requires sacrifices from men, not just women.
Doubts about the side-effects of the pill remind us is that we need to be more sceptical about every innovation that is presented to us as a great blessing. It may not be, in the long run. This is not to be Luddite, but merely to be careful. Nor is it to subscribe to every conspiracy theory going; but when the science seems sound, and this Danish research does seem so, we need to re-evaluate things like the pill. But perhaps more importantly still, we need to re-evaluate the myth of progress. It has been many decades since the publication of Humanae Vitae, which was scorned as a retrograde step at he time, but with the passing of the years now seems more truly progressive, more prophetic, than ever.