The use of birth control in the Catholic Church is typically frowned upon. But a new article published in the journal The Lancet makes the bold argument that nuns should take birth control pills to reduce their risk of cancer. Here, a brief guide to the issue:
Why would nuns need special protection against cancer?
Good question. According to the study, lifelong chastity comes with a "terrible price," says Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel. The medical term is called nulliparity — a condition that results from never having children. Its "terrible consequences" can include an "increased risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers." In short, because nuns "aren't getting pregnant or breastfeeding," more menstrual periods increase their risk of contracting the disease, as confirmed by studies of nearly 32,000 Catholic nuns between 1900 and 1954.
And birth control helps?
Significantly. The "condemned" pill "has been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer by up to 60 percent," says Katie Moisse at ABC News. The study recommends that not only should the Church allow the oral contraceptives to be accessible to nuns, but it should also consider supplying them. That's, of course, problematic, as the Catholic Church "condemns all forms of contraception except abstinence, as outlined by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968."
What does the church say?
The researchers are "presuming the church has some kind of authority over the medical care of nuns, which it doesn't," Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tells ABC News. "A nun goes to a doctor for her medical care, and if that medical care requires a certain kind of medicine then that medicine is prescribed." Plus, consuming oral contraceptives come with its own set of health risks, including blood cots. "A nun's decision," says Walsh, "needs to be worked out between the nun and her doctor."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Syrian women know how to defeat ISIS
- The U.S. Marines are developing laser weapons. Here's why.
- The one thing the New Atheists get right about religion
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Will Kobani be ISIS's Waterloo?
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 5 baffling foreign-language versions of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song
- Bob Odenkirk's 6 favorite books
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How to make corn dogs
Subscribe to the Week