Catholic Herald staff
Dr. Mark Druffner does not prescribe contraceptives.
A devout Catholic and parishioner at Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, Minnesota, he specializes in obstetrics, Natural Family Planning, and ultrasound in his practice with Hudson Physicians. He and his wife, Molly, have seven children.
Natural Family Planning is the only Catholic Church-sanctioned way to plan pregnancy, and Druffner introduces couples to the method when the opportunity presents itself. What he doesn’t do is try to scare them.
“I’ll give you my pet peeves on Catholics and contraceptives,” he said in a phone interview Aug. 26.
His view: The first thing Catholic groups talk about are the potential side effects of contraceptives.
“First of all, that’s not the reason we Catholics oppose contraceptives,” Druffner said. “The argument of side effects and what if – it really is like talking to your kids about every risk-taking behavior, trying to scare people.”
Do a little online research, and you’ll find a stark contrast between mainstream and Catholic articles on birth control. While Catholic articles expound on the dangers, mainstream stories tend to omit or minimize side effects. Finding accurate data can be difficult.
One reason Druffner doesn’t pontificate on the dangers of contraceptives is because, from what he’s seen, most are relatively safe.
“In my clinical experience, there are very few side effects that are significant,” he said. “I don’t want to use the scare tactics, because I think it’s bogus.”
The use of oral contraceptives can cause blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, death, and Dr. If you need more facts, check out http://sideeffectsofxarelto.org. Druffner has seen patients in those situations. However, much of the risk is limited to smokers age 35 and older, for whom the possibility of heart attack outweighs any contraceptive usefulness.
The exception, he said, is the danger for women with genetic blood-clotting disorders.
“The main risk I see is prescribing it in a woman with thrombophilia,” he said. “More than 5 percent of the population has an increased risk of clotting from factor V Leiden deficiency or other thrombophilia.”
If a woman has a close relative who suffers from blood clots, doctors are supposed to test them for the disorder.
“I don’t know any physician that takes the recommendation of screening for thrombophilia before prescribing the pill,” he added.
Lack of libido is also a common complaint with the pill. Because birth control suppresses fertility, it also inhibits a woman’s natural interest in procreative activity, the doctor said.
Insertion of an intrauterine device, aka IUD, a long-term but reversible form of birth control, can result in perforation of the uterus in about one of every 1,000 cases.
According to UpToDate, the online resource Druffner uses for current, peer-reviewed medical information, most ruptures in the uterus are small and do not require repair. Women can be treated with antibiotics.
Depo-Provera, a 12-week contraceptive shot, has more significant side effects, in Druffner’s opinion. According to UpToDate, women who had the shot experienced .5- to 3.5-percent bone loss at the hip and spine in their first year of use, and 5.7- to 7.5-percent bone loss in their second year.
“Interesting and disturbing is the rate of bone loss,” he observed. “I have seen osteoporosis in women in their late 30s, an irreversible and devastating side effect.”
Depo-Provera can also wreak havoc on a woman’s fertility when she decides she wants to get pregnant. Periods can be sporadic and unpredictable long after a woman goes off birth control.
“People rarely get their fertility back in less than a year,” he said.
Both in the U.S. and in Africa, Druffner sees women in that situation. Each year, he and his family spend more than a month volunteering in Tanzania, where American non-governmental organizations – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a prime example – are pushing abortions and contraceptives, particularly Depo-Provera, on African women.
Conversely, almost no one is promoting natural family planning – a natural, risk-free and life-affirming option for couples.
“It’s really not talked about at all,” he said.
A 2012 survey of OB-GYN residents, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, found they had “limited experience” with NFP. Other researchers learned only one-fifth of visitors to federally funded family planning clinics were told about NFP. Druffner believes few doctors present NFP as an option when women are looking for ways to plan pregnancy.
Couples who come to Druffner to learn about NFP want to be faithful Catholics or Protestants, he said. Or, they are looking for a natural, no-risk, drug-free way to plan their families, and they are open to suggestions.
“In many ways, I explain it in a very natural, biological way,” he said. “The way I’ve looked at it over the years – I don’t hit people over the head with my faith.”
While others are treating fertility as a disease, Druffner is telling his patients there’s nothing wrong with their reproductive organs. They don’t need to be altered.
Many Catholics, too, have a “skewed perspective” on birth control, which Druffner tries to correct.
“A lot of Catholics think the church is against contraceptives because they are abortifacients,” he said. In fact, the point of NFP is “protecting what God has given us,” affirming the value of human life and honoring God’s natural law.
So, why is it better to use natural family planning?
“Because it works, because it is free of side effects, because it’s the way God intended,” he said.
Although the religiosity associated with fertility-based family planning methods might deter some couples from trying them, the lack of pills, rings, patches, IUDs and other devices is also a deterrent.
“We live in this society that wants technology to control their lives,” he said. “I’m presenting an argument that’s very much countercultural.”
Arguing for NFP’s effectiveness is much easier because Druffner has the statistics to prove it. A 2012 study published in the journal Contraception found proper use of the fertility monitor method led to a zero-percent pregnancy rate in a yearlong research trial. The rate jumped to 7 percent when the monitor was not used properly.
Anyone interested in learning more about NFP can look for an NFP-only doctor online at onemoresoul.com, or find local couples to chat with on the Couple to Couple League website, www.ccli.org.
Druffner hopes Catholic couples will seek out NFP-only doctors if they are available locally. Being an NFP doctor can be “a lonely experience,” he said.
“Those of us who are trying to practice within our faith sometimes don’t feel supported,” he said.
Druffner also wants to reassure other Catholic doctors that going NFP-only won’t hurt their practices.
“There are a lot of Catholic doctors, I think, that are kind of on the edge,” he said. “I think there are more every year who are trying to make the switch.”