The scene is common across America. A woman walks into her physician’s office. Perhaps it’s painful periods. Ovarian cysts. Endometriosis. Irregular bleeding.
After the consultation, the woman is given a prescription for the contraceptive pill. The problem will be solved and she’ll likely remain on the pill for a majority of her childbearing years. No questions asked.
But in Dr. Louise Murphy’s office, the scene plays out differently.
The “aha! moment”
A family practice physician for 24 years and a member of the Church of Spirit of Life in Mandan, Murphy experienced a sudden change of heart: a change that would heavily affect her use of contraception in her practice.
Born and raised Catholic, Murphy lived a majority of her life honestly unaware of the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding contraception and sexuality. She never learned anything in medical school. She didn’t hear it from friends. It was never mentioned from the pulpit.
When difficult family issues arose, Murphy realized that she needed to learn to pray “the very best I could.” A simple desire for prayer turned into attending a retreat. Attending a retreat turned into a private meeting with Msgr. Richter, who had spoken at the retreat. The private meeting turned into a request to join the Catholic Physicians Guild. Then exploration began.
Murphy met with Fr. Josh Waltz, who she knew had written a thesis on bioethics. After a few meetings with him, Murphy made the decision. She still remembers the precise day: April 1, 2010.
“I said to my nurse, ‘we are no longer doing contraception in our practice. I have learned some things about my faith, and we’re not doing it.’ It was overnight practically,” Murphy explained. Since Mid Dakota Clinic is owned by its members and there are no corporate policies to follow, there was no resistance to her switch. “It’s been tremendously easy,” she said.
With contraception out of the question, Murphy knew she needed a reasonable alternative to suggest to patients. She had only known Natural Family Planning as the “rhythm method” of the past, but in her exploration found that NFP was more scientifically based than she had believed.
Now she is certified to be an instructor for the Billings Ovulation Method of NFP, one of many NFP models couples can use for family planning.
Problem with the pill
In a culture that seems to glorify the contraceptive pill, Murphy now has a different opinion.
“The pill is not doing women any favors. Contraception on the surface looks like it might be a good thing. But it doesn’t seem like it’s solving our problems of abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and single parenting. Actually, it’s the opposite. [Our church’s teachings] are something our society needs right now. We need fewer STDs, we need fewer pregnancies out of wedlock and we need more good citizens. The government hasn’t really thought this through. [Contraception] is not helping our society,” Murphy said.
Murphy acknowledged that some well-meaning people attempt to demonize the pill, which she thinks isn’t right. “There are serious risks to taking the pill, but they aren’t real common,” she said, noting that high blood pressure and nausea are side effects. She said the pill might lead to an increased risk of heart disease in older women since the pill elevates a woman’s level of estrogen for an extended period of time. A connection between the pill and breast cancer may be drawn in the future (the World Health Organization classifies the pill as a class I carcinogen), but at this point it’s inconclusive, she said, and no other public health organizations (such as the FDA) have done the same. “The primary reason I don’t prescribe the pill is because of my faith.”
Similarly, Murphy does agree that the pill may be over-prescribed, but doctors aren’t necessarily pushing it on women. “We as physicians have this train of thought that when a woman comes in to us and has a question, we have to solve it. The quickest way is medication for whatever it is. When it’s a condition related to their menstrual period or their fertility and we have a medication [like the pill], it’s the first and easiest thing we think of.
“The Catholic Guild has helped me realize that we can
do some of these things, but should
we do some of these things? Our faith helps us decide, ‘Can we do this medical thing ethically?’ If not, it does mean spending a little extra time with a patient.”
Complete care for women
Murphy is aware of the responsibility on her shoulders as a faithful Catholic physician.
“It helps me know that this woman in front of me is not just a body, but she’s also a soul. If we’re here on earth to help one another get to heaven, then my motivation is to not only help her with her body medically, but to help her see things in the light of Jesus. Most physicians are thinking of the body. But as a Catholic physician, there’s a greater dimension.”
Now she wants to help women realize why the pill isn’t the best choice for them.
“She’s not only made for sexual pleasure, but she’s made for her fertility and that gives her value. That gives her something different. And that gives her a purpose for God. I cherish that in my gender and I want to further that in women, that they realize that they are made for something great, and it’s an honor [to be a mother].”
Most notably, Murphy aims to demonstrate to her patients the love of Christ.
“I feel a joyful spirit about it! I have learned these things and it’s exciting to be able to bring our Church’s teaching to the person in front of me who may not know anything about it, as I knew nothing about it for many years of my practice.”
Click here to learn more about Natural Family Planning in western N.D. or contact Amanda Ellerkamp: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more, see the August 2013 Dakota Catholic Action.