Was the contraceptive pill really tailored to please the pope?

Contraceptive pillCC: Anqa at Pixabay

As one of the cornerstones of women’s health, contraceptives have played a big role in reducing maternal mortality rates. One of the first to become available was the contraceptive pill. It arrived in the United States in 1960 – with lots of resistance, of course. More recently, headlines have suggested that the reason women were made to take a week off from Enavid and the pills that followed was due to the Pope. But, is there any evidence suggesting that’s true?

No, the Pope didn’t force the one-week break from the contraceptive pill

As this Tweet from Dr. Jennifer Gunter shows, the widely circulated story isn’t entirely accurate:

If you take a little time to read the comments that followed, you’ll see that other medics stepped in to agree with her version of events regarding the contraceptive pill.

Although the idea that women can’t handle the idea of a life without periods is patronizing, it tells a different story to the one that’s flooded social media recently.

So, why do people believe the pope intervened?

This one is a little more complex. A Pope did make his views clear on the use of the contraceptive pill. And they were largely unsupportive.

As this article from the Washington Post reveals, Pope John XXIII gathered bishops to vote on the matter in 1962. He was in agreement with the use of oral contraceptives. Much like both Republican and Democrat experts in the United States, he could see that the contraceptive pill prevents ovulation and did not act as an abortifacient.

Sadly, Pope John XXIII may have been the man to start a positive movement toward contraceptive acceptance in the Vatican, but his successor didn’t share his views. When Pope Paul VI took over, he decided to disregard the majority support among his bishops and denounced the use of contraceptives.

Although the Pope of the time did make his feelings clear from the Vatican, claiming the pill was tweaked to suit him is a far-fetched claim.

This rumor appears to stem from one lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University recalling that Carl Djerassi, “the Father of the Pill,” made such a claim in his lectures. However, this claim supposedly stemmed from the late 1950s when Pope John XXIII held the position. The lecturer’s statement only references his successor who was against contraceptives.

Does the contraceptive pill controversy matter?

It’s worth acknowledging, as it’s an excellent representation of how not everything we read online is true. This statement has been swept up and embraced by journalists worldwide, with no real attempts to dig into the facts. If anything, it’s a staunch reminder that we could all do with dedicating more time to questioning what we read online.

For those who are religious, it could arguably have a worrying effect. Whether you’re spiritual or not, it’s important to remember that the views other people hold can influence how they interact with the healthcare resources available to them. The contraceptive pill has made excellent progress in terms of reducing maternal mortality. Plus, it can make periods less heavy, less painful, and generally more tolerable. Contributing to the idea that the Vatican is against it could make access challenging for some women.

The good news from all this is, it’s now well-known that the option of taking a contraceptive pill throughout the month isn’t dangerous. As always, knowledge is empowering.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.