by Kara Hansen
OLATHE — When Dr. Ann Smith made the decision to stop prescribing artificial contraception in her practice, it was a leap of faith.
She knew the issue might cause patients to leave her practice and seek care elsewhere. She also knew that it would likely have a detrimental effect on her practice’s financial well-being.
She just decided the benefits outweighed the risk.
“I decided that part of it didn’t matter. Other things are more important,” said Smith, a member of St. Paul Parish in Olathe.
Those “other things” for Smith included standing up for her Catholic faith and convictions and carrying those into her practice as a physician.
“I really want to try to treat my patients like Christ would treat them,” said Smith, who is a board-certified family physician.
For Smith, that includes not only compassionate care, but the prescribing of only those medications that will be helpful without adverse effects.
“There are valid medical concerns people forget about the pill. It definitely increases blood pressure in some people and increases the risk of blood clots,” she said, “and those side effects are often forgotten.”
Smith was always personally convinced of the benefits of natural family planning, but did not originally bring those beliefs into her medical practice. But over time, she grew increasingly concerned about the abortifacient aspect of oral birth control pills, which she estimates allow for breakthrough ovulation in two to ten percent of fertility cycles.
While she knew there were other medications that worked in a similar way, the idea of prescribing artificial contraceptives did not sit well with her.
“The more I thought about it, I realized when I prescribed the other medications it was to fix something that was broken or to correct a medical condition that was harmful to the individual,” said Smith. “When I was prescribing birth control, it was breaking something that’s working, as well as risking my patient having an early miscarriage.”
While Smith had always recommended natural family planning to her patients as a method of postponing and spacing pregnancies, she began to seriously consider focusing on NFP exclusively.
She started out by reflecting and praying on the issue and discussing it with friends and colleagues. Eventually, she came to the decision to stop prescribing artificial birth control entirely, except in cases where it was required to treat a medical condition.
“Natural family planning is effective, it is safe,” said Smith. “I think people are afraid of it because there is so much misinformation out there on NFP. Even many professionals don’t know much about it.”
She began to inform patients in her practice of this decision over the course of a year’s time, as patients came in for their annual exams. It gave Smith the opportunity to share with each patient why she had made the decision. A handful of patients have reacted in anger and left. Others have been open to hearing what she has to say; still others have respectfully disagreed.
She fully expected some patients to transfer, leaving her practice financially strapped, but the exodus has not been as severe as she originally feared.
“I haven’t had nearly as many patients leave the practice as I expected, and I have also gotten quite a few new patients who have chosen me because I was an NFP-only physician,” said Smith. “It’s not near the hit to my practice I expected.”
Still, the biggest benefit for Smith cannot be measured in monetary terms.
“I’m certainly a lot more peaceful since making the switch,” she said.