A hearing in the Arizona House Committee on Federalism and States Rights earlier this year to vet a proposed law requiring doctors to inform women that medication abortions can be reversed disintegrated into a forum of name calling, tossed barbs, and political statements.
The proposed amendment to SB1318, which also sought to make it illegal for health care exchanges to accept taxpayer funds for abortions, seemed to come out of nowhere.
There was testimony of “junk science” and saved lives, but nothing said about the nearly 50-year history of combined religious and medical practice that eventually led to the amendment, which passed into law and is being challenged as unconstitutional in federal court.
The roots of the law can be traced back to a 1968 letter from Pope Paul VI and a Nebraska doctor who has said he views the obstetric and gynecological industry as a “culture of death.’’
The controversial papal encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” affirms the church’s ban on contraception and abortion. The encyclical also set off a firestorm and was hailed and criticized by many, including bishops and Catholic theologians.
It stated that artificial birth control will lead to more marital infidelity and general lowering of moral standards, and cause a man to reduce a woman “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
The encyclical inspired Dr. Thomas Hilgers to open a clinic in Omaha devoted to the practice of reproductive medicine in line with Catholic teaching. That is where all of the doctors who participated in the case studies involving the practice of abortion reversal trained on a method of gynecological care that rejects the use of the birth control pill and in vitro fertilization.
The encyclical, in fact, calls on doctors and scientists to practice in accordance with their faith.
“These can ‘considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family and also peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they strive to elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favorable to a proper regulation of births,’” the encyclical reads.
Hilgers, founder of Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, has told Catholic media he took the directives given to men of science and doctors to heart. He decided to establish his institute the day the pope died in 1978. It opened in 1985.
He described the obstetric and gynecological industry as a “culture of death,” and added that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is “viciously pro-abortion, pro contraception, pro tubal ligation and pro in vitro fertilization.” He said in vitro fertilization is a “highly abortive technology,” since it destroys five to six embryos for every live birth.
Hilgers once explained to an interviewer on a Catholic network that traditional gynecology simply uses the birth control pill to treat symptoms rather than the problems. For example, a teenager with severe cramping would normally be prescribed the pill, but his method looks for the underlying cause.
He said he hopes to find a cure for infertility through a form of care he developed – Natural Procreation Technology, or NaproTechnology.
He declined to be interviewed for this story, but he said in an email that George Delgado, a San Diego doctor, developed the abortion pill reversal technique, but it is not taught at the Nebraska institute.
Delgado said abortion pill reversal does have its basis in the training Hilgers provides at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, particularly the use of progesterone, a hormone necessary to maintain pregnancy.
The abortion pill reversal method uses progesterone to reverse the effects of the mifepristone, or RU-486, the first of a two-pill regime used in a medication abortion.
NaproTechnology hasn’t gained wide acceptance in the obstetrics and gynecological field. Hilgers claims to have trained about 500 doctors in the practice.
Delgado said abortion pill reversal is not part of Naprotechnology, but that Naprotechnology does strongly rely on progesterone treatment; for example to prevent miscarriage.
Delgado said the substantial use of progesterone in NaproTechnology led him and another doctor to theorize that the hormone could be used to reverse the effects of mifepristone.
Hilgers said NaproTechnology tracks the menstrual and fertility cycles of women for the purpose of family planning, but also looks for the underlying causes of infertility. It is not the rhythm method, which is an approach to natural family planning that tracks a woman’s menstrual cycle to determine ovulation.
The encyclical teaches Catholics to “take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile.”
Pam Lotke, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, said there is nothing revolutionary about Naprotechnology, but it is dismissive of standard obstetrics and gynecology.
Delgado said NaproTechnology tends to conflict with accepted dogma, and people tend to close their minds to new ideas.
“I think in a way it is revolutionary because at the basis of this philosophy of NaproTechnology is a fundamental respect for the natural design of the fertility system, number one. And number two, instead of circumventing, replacing, or destroying the reproductive system, the intent is to discover shortcomings and defects and correcting those defects so that the reproduction system is actually normal,” Delgado said.