A recent Tampa Bay Times editorial accused the Florida Catholic Conference of “torpedoing” a program to decrease abortions. The Times editorial makes sweeping statements and accuses the Catholic Conference of needless hand-wringing. But the editorial itself fails to address issues of women’s health, and the racial and economic targeting that can accompany Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARC), including those using hormones (HLARC).
The editorial opens by claiming that “contraception cuts down on abortion.” This isn’t a fact. It’s a talking point. Greater access to contraceptives doesn’t necessarily reduce abortion rates. Here’s one example. In 2011, Texas removed Planned Parenthood’s state funding, which presumably reduced contraceptive availability. And yet, between 2011 and 2014, the number of abortions on minor girls fell 28% across the state.
The editorial goes on to paint the Catholic Conference’s legitimate concerns as needless “worry.” The Catholic Church teaches that life should be protected from the moment of conception, even before implantation in the womb. And I believe simple biology backs up that belief. The overwhelming majority of HLARCs are specifically designed to prevent embryos from implanting in the uterus, which destroys the life created at conception. The manufacturer’s own labeling cites “alteration of the endometrium” as a mechanism of action. This is, as the Florida Catholic Conference has noted elsewhere, an abortifacient effect.
Women’s health represents another area of concern for the Florida Catholic Conference. The long-term use of powerful hormones to force a young woman’s body into sterility has significant and well-documented negative side effects. Intra-uterine devices (IUDs), which are most often used in tandem with powerful hormones, can add health risks such as headaches, weight gain, uterine perforation or pelvic inflammatory disease. A 2016 California law that provided more public funding for LARCs and HLARCs saw the rates of sexually transmitted disease sharply increase and lead to a 20-year high. Planned Parenthood attributed this to a decreased use of barrier contraception as women shifted to HLARCs.
The editorial acknowledges that these HLARCs will be targeted toward low-income girls and women. Ethicists have raised alarms about the directive nature of HLARC counseling to low-income women and racial minorities. In many cases, policy makers and professionals are much more enthusiastic about these contraceptives than are their users. Some policy makers have even suggested coercive incentive payments to women in exchange for having these contraceptives inserted.
Sterilizing women and girls (even temporarily) may look like an easy, cheap solution. It is no solution, however, to inequities in race, socioeconomic opportunity and access to health care.
In the end, the Catholic Church’s advocacy — and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto of the bill to spend $2 million on long-acting contraception for low-income girls and women — were about protecting the health of women, particularly those who are already disadvantaged and their unborn children.
Sabrina Burton Schultz is director of Life, Justice and Advocacy for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.