By Julia Snyder
Campus Ministry tackled an unusual topic this week: women’s reproductive health. Naomi Whittaker, MD, spoke to students over Zoom about the Creighton Model system and NaPro Technology as an approach to health.
“Periods shouldn’t be painful, and there is more to women’s health than birth control,” Whittaker said.
The system claims to be an alternative to hormone treatment with birth control pills.
“When women face hormonal problems, most mainstream doctors immediately prescribe women with the birth control pill,” an advertisement for the presentation stated. “However, this is rarely effective because it merely masks the problem instead of fixing the problem at its root. The pill also has many harmful long-term side effects.”
Whittaker hopes students took away from the presentation an appreciation of the complexity of women’s health.
“I hope students learn about the science of the amazing system in the woman’s body . . . and how to help the reproductive system function optimally for gynecological health and potentially fertility,” Whittaker said. “Women can be empowered with the knowledge of the menstrual cycle through the Creighton Model system and NaPro Technology.”
But NaPro may not be the best choice for every situation.
“I do think that over-prescription of birth control is a problem, but I also think it can help a lot of people—it helped me a lot; it changed my life and made me a functional human again,” Dr. Michelle Duennes, assistant professor of biology, said.
Duennes also raised concerns about the evidence, or lack thereof, behind the NaPro approach. Before the event, she did some research into NaPro on the website naprotechnology.com.
“On their website specifically, I wasn’t able to find a single article that was specifically about how the NaPro Technology itself directly leads to increases in fertility in the patients that have been treated with it,” Duennes explained.
She found one article from 2011, but was disappointed that it didn’t explain how it got the data it used.
“They don’t say the sample sizes, they don’t say how the data was collected. Mostly I was interested in the sample sizes,” Duennes said.
She went to the presentation hoping to get answers from Whittaker.
“The data is there, you just have to know how to look for it,” Whittaker said, in response to Duennes’ question. “Randomized, controlled studies—you’re not going to find that. There’s no financial incentive.”
“I really was just wanted some answers about the technology, and maybe some references and graphs, and that’s not what she gave me,” Duennes said. “I really wasn’t trying to personally attack her. I hope it didn’t come across that way. I just had some questions about the efficacy of the technology.”
Maggie Hines, a senior biology major, said that Whittaker’s response was disappointing.
“It felt very dismissive,” Hines said.
And Duennes did not find the lack of funding for a peer-reviewed study to be a convincing excuse.
“The NIH regularly funds research into to efficacy of IVF, through the CDC, which they actually publish on the NaPro website,” Duennes explained. “So there’s lots of funding that they could apply for to fund this study.”
Frannie Andreola, a junior biology major, also found the lack of data concerning.
“Something that stuck with me was that she said they need better marketing for NaPro,” Andreola said. “To me, if it is an effective technology, and if it is helping women, then they should be pushing for peer-reviewed studies for it to be taught in standard medical school.”
Andreola also wished the role of Campus Ministry in organizing Whittaker’s visit had been more clear in advertisements for the event.
“I don’t think it should have been marketed as a pre-health event,” Andreola said.
“It’s kind of scary to see this event trotted out as something for pre-health professionals. They did not say it was sponsored by Campus Ministry,” she said.
But for Br. Barnabas O’Reilly, O.S.B., who organized the presentation, the topic hits close to home.
“Many of my friends including my sisters have been very blessed by the NaPro approach to medicine, and I thought if my loved ones had known about NaPro when they were in college it may have been super helpful,” O’Reilly explained.
Miriam Donovan, a sophomore graphic design and philosophy major, was excited to attend the presentation.
“I’m interested in this topic because I haven’t heard of NaPro before. I’ve always wondered about why doctors don’t seem to put much funding or research into birth control alternatives,” Donovan said.
Joe Heldrich, a senior politics major who attended the event also expects to use what he learned about NaPro in the future.
“It includes and educates a husband (or future husband) in understanding what happens in his wife's (or future wife's) body,” Heldrich said.
And O’Reilly sees NaPro as a way to integrate faith into medicine.
“I think that both men and women should know that NaPro is a wonderful example on how faith has influenced a field like medicine,” O’Reilly said.
But Andreola wished the presentation had focused more on the health issues and less on religion.
“It seems like they’re very concerned with the dichotomy between NaPro doctors and normal, secular gynecologists, and I think if they really believe in their technology so strongly they should try to bring in secular gynecologists and make this a standard option and not make it so much about the morality,” Andreola explained. “I think it would appeal to more people.”