Prayer moves doctor to dump contraception

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

GARDNER — Dr. Kevin J. Punswick was living a compartmentalized life and he knew he had to make a decision about it — the right one — no matter what the cost.

On Sundays, Punswick was a faithful Catholic who knew, understood and practiced the church’s teaching regarding artificial contraception and natural family planning.

But on Monday, he’d practice medicine in a way that contradicted his deeply held faith. He referred vasectomies, prescribed birth control pills and inserted intrauterine devices.

“Even though my wife and I chose natural family planning . . . I felt a departure from what I practiced at home and what I practiced in the office,” said Punswick, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and a doctor of osteopathic medicine.

Punswick and his wife Jennie learned about natural family planning while taking marriage preparation classes with Father Jerry Volz, who urged them to take a course on NFP. They did, and wholeheartedly embraced it for their family life together.

Career-wise, however, it was a different matter.

“On Monday, I was a different person than I was on Sunday,” said Punswick.

That began to change when the Punswicks became acquainted with their new neighbors four doors down: the Apostles of the Interior Life. It wasn’t long after meeting that the couple decided to undertake spiritual direction with Sister Loredana Mazzei.

Out of that developed a growing realization on the part of Punswick that he needed to integrate his life.

“I needed a more spiritual, prayerful life in order to gain that conviction to be the same person on Monday as I was on Sunday,” he said. “I was conflicted, knowing in my conscience that I was doing something against church teaching.”

Punswick knew that if he stopped doing vasectomies and prescribing artificial birth control he would lose patients, and the loss would impact his income, and, hence, his family. He might also face the hostility of colleagues and the medical establishment.

So he thought he might make the transition gradually.

But God thought otherwise.

Last spring, Punswick had a nursing student following him through his patient load.

“She went in and talked with the family prior to me coming in, and then we both went in together again,” said Punswick. “They were asking about contraceptive methods, and she explained this was what I did.”

“Twenty minutes prior, I had done all that,” he confirmed. “I had prescribed birth control pills, I did tell people to get vasectomies, and I did implant IUDs. And I walked in with her and the patient asked for the contraception, and I said, ‘I don’t do that anymore.’”

His patient was confused. His nurse practitioner student stared at him. Punswick apologized to both, saying he couldn’t do this for reasons of conscience. Then, he retreated to his office.

“I had a flood of practitioners [come] into the room,” he said. “[They asked,] ‘What’s going on? When did you decide this? Was this told to you? Do you have to do this?’”

“I said no one is forcing me to do this,” Punswick said. “No one’s telling me I have to do this — here. God is telling me to do this. After two or three minutes, my office staff and fellow practitioners said, ‘OK, we understand that’s what you have to do.’ I really haven’t had that many questions about it since.”

One colleague even said, “I appreciate you standing up for your convictions.”

Punswick went home that night and told his wife. She gave him a big smile.

There has been some fallout. He has lost patients, but he hasn’t faced animosity from inside the medical system in his area. Taking this step was made a lot easier by the examples of his mentors, Dr. Bruce Snider and Dr. Patrick Herrick.

“I have had people who were upset I wouldn’t refill their birth control or place an IUD, or encourage them to have a vasectomy,” he said.

“Those were hard patient visits. But I strive continuously to be a better Catholic,” he added. “Deeper prayer was the answer for me. It continues to be the answer for me, because I continue to struggle.”

Closing the door to one way of medicine has opened a door to another, he discovered. More people want to know about, and try, natural family planning.

“I’m realizing there are a lot of people out there who want to live their faith, but they just haven’t found a practitioner willing to work with them on it,” he said. (For NFP information, go to the website at: fertilitycarekc.com.)

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