Some Questions and Answers
FEW CHOICES are more serious than that of a woman to prevent pregnancy by
surgical sterilization. Every year hundreds of thousands of women make that choice.
They may be driven by fear of sickness or death from the Pill or IUD) and their
abortion-causing effects, fear of unplanned pregnancies resulting from the less effective
barrier methods, and sometimes fear of exercising sexual self-control.
Many couples turn to surgical sterilization out of desperation, but later come to regard
this step as drastic and unwise especially when they learn about the highly effective
modern method of natural family planning known as the Sympto-Thermal Method.
What is tubal ligation?
A tubal ligation is a surgical operation performed to make a woman sexually sterile.
There are two common methods of tubal ligation: minilaparotomy and laparoscopy. A
mini aparotomy involves making a small incision in the abdomen and locating the
fallopian tubes, which conduct the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. After the tubes
are found and drawn outside the body through the incision, a portion of each tube is
removed and the ends are tied.
In laparoscopy the woman's abdomen is first inflated with carbon dioxide or nitrous
oxide gas, creating a gap between the bowel and the abdomen. A fiberoptic light is
inserted (by puncturing the abdominal wall) and an instrument either coagulates the
tubes with an electric current or places a band or clip on the tubes.
Is tubal ligation 100% effective?
No. The only 100% effective sterilization surgeries are male castration (removal of the
testicles) and female castration (removal of the ovaries), these surgeries are simply not
performed for birth control purposes.
Tubal ligation has a failure rate of 1% (one-tenth of one percent).1 This is about the
same overall failure rate as vasectomy. Pregnancies can occur due to surgical error,
equipment failure, or the natural processes in which the body reestablishes a
connection from the uterus to the abdominal cavity.2
Is tubal ligation reversible?
Yes and no. Reversal surgery can sometimes be done, but it does not necessarily restore
fertility. Success rates for the reversal of female sterilization procedures can be
misleading, since up to 70% of women requesting reversals are not accepted for surgery
because too much damage has been done to the fallopian tubes or other reproductive
organs.3 Therefore, "women must consider any sterilization technique as permanent."4
What are the health risks of tubal ligation?
"Depending on the sterilization technique used, between 800 and 2,000 women per
100,000 can expect a major complication...at the time of operation," according to the
Alan Guttmacher Institute.5
Minilaparotomy patients may suffer from such complications as infection, injury to the
bladder or bleeding from a major blood vessel, and burning of the bowel or other
structures. There also can be anesthesia complications.6
Laparoscopy has serious complications such as perforation of the bowel leading to
massive infection of the abdominal cavity, complications from anesthesia, improper
clearance of the windpipe during the operation, even pulmonary embolism.7 Dr. H.P
Dunn noted, "Every operation carries the risk of hemorrhage or infection... Some
patients have died from cardiac failure during the inflation procedure. Others have
suffered wounds of the bowel, bladder, and large blood vessels. Even intraperitoneal
explosions have occurred."8
What are the long-term health risks?
Apart from these immediate complications of surgery, post-tubal problems are so
frequent they are now called "posttubal ligation syndrome." A review of the literature
on post-tubal ligation problems by Drs. Joel Hargrove and Guy Abraham revealed an
incidence of long-term complications in as many as 22 to 37% of sterilized women.9
Dr. Vicki Hugnagel, a surgeon who specializes in restoring women's reproductive
organs, has written, "Many posttubal patients who come to my office seeking relief
complain bitterly of more severe cramps, heavier or longer periods, dysfunctional
uterine bleeding, pain with intercourse, and pelvic pain or pressure."10
A study in Britain followed 374 posttubal patients and found that 43% had subsequent
gynecological treatment for such conditions as heavy menstrual bleeding, menstrual
disturbances requiring hormonal treatments, cervical erosion, ovarian tumors, and
recanalization of the fallopian tubes requiring a second operation.
Another British study of tubal ligation found a 40% increase in menstrual blood loss;
26% of the group experienced increased menstrual pain. Women who had used the Pill
before their tubal ligation reported more of these complaints than other patients.12
A study by James G. Tappan found a 40.7% incidence of menorrhagia and suggested
that cystic degeneration of the ovary may result from interruption of blood flow from
the uterine artery.13 A longitudinal study of over 8,000 women five years after their
tubal ligations found 49% of them suffered heavy periods and 35% reported an increase
of severe menstrual cramping.14 The risk of cervical cancer among a study of 489 post-
tubal women was 3.5 times the normal rate.15
As mentioned previously, many couples attempt to have sterilizations reversed though
fewer than half of reversals are functionally successful.16 Women who do achieve
pregnancy after the reversal of tubal ligation face anywhere from a 4% to 64% increased
risk of tubal pregnancy, a life-threatening and psychologically wrenching experience.
The rate of risk depended on the procedure used.17
Furthermore, it is difficult to assess the health risks involved when women voluntarily
forego the benefits of future pregnancies. Greater risks of ovarian cancer18 and
endometrial cancer19 are associated with having few or no children.
What are the risks of subsequent hysterectomy?
There is an increased incidence of women with tubal ligations undergoing subsequent
hysterectomy due to severe menstrual problems-18.7% among one group of 374
patients.20 In a study of long-term risk, women aged 20 to 29 years who had tubal
ligations were found to be 3.4 times as likely to have a subsequent hysterectomy.21
Is there a connection with PMS?
Tubal ligation is also a risk factor for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Katarina Dalton,
M.D., founder of the world's first PMS clinic stated, "Recently, it has been recognized
that Premenstrual Syndrome often increases in intensity following tubal ligation....
After women had the simple operation to block their fallopian tubes, they subsequently
produced less progesterone from their ovaries."22 This has been confirmed by other
The ovaries function poorly as a result of the disruption of blood supply to them;
elevated levels of estrogen and inadequate progesterone may explain the heavier
bleeding and cramping that often follow female sterilization.24
Because tubal ligations are frequently done after the delivery of a child, conditions such
as ordinary postpartum depression may mask the connection with PMS in short-term
studies. Progesterone levels before and after tubal ligation are an area yet to be
Weight gain following tubal ligation is commonly reported but it also has not been the
subject of research.
What are the psychological side effects?
Although each year approximately a million Americans choose sterilization for birth
control purposes,26 long-range studies of the psychological effects of sterilization are
difficult to find. However, Premenstrual Syndrome is well-known for its mentally
disorienting and emotionally devastating effects. It has even been used successfully as
an "insanity" defense in criminal trials.
When a woman takes such an irrevocable course of action, it is psychologically difficult
to admit that a mistake has been made. This explains why patients who experience
difficulties with sterilization still respond in surveys that they are "satisfied" with the
procedure. "The need to convince ourselves is served by convincing others," noted one
What are the social consequences?
There is little research on the social consequences of sterilization.
Minimum age and spousal consent requirements for sterilization have been reduced in
many states, which may cause stress in marriages, especially when a couple reconsiders
this permanent decision earlier in their married life. Two-thirds of sterilizations are
tubal ligations, in contrast to the early 1970s when nearly 60% of such operations were
The ratio of male to female sterilization may look like just another boring statistic, but
behind every statistic is a human story. A dramatic, often non-verbal tug-of-war over
whose fertility is to be sacrificed hides behind this sociological statistic. Now that
vasectomy has been associated in the media with a higher risk of prostate cancer, the
pressure on women to bear the sole burden of sterilization may increase.
Regrets over this decision, made under stressful circumstances, may affect marriages
adversely. Some of the most heartbreaking letters received by the Couple to Couple
League come from couples who have deep sorrow and bitterness about a sterilization
Another distressing social consequence comes from the very nature of sexual
sterilization: the acceptance of the idea that an essential part of the body can be
disconnected like a machine. This has grave implications. Cats and dogs are spayed for
the convenience of their masters-but who are the "masters" in the human social order?
Contemporary opinion holds that your body belongs to you. However, the traditional
belief is that we are stewards of our bodies, gifts from God that should never be
mutilated. Such a belief places a check both on the power of state, and on the self-will
of the individual.
Can "voluntary" sterilization become "forced"?
Yes. Perhaps the greatest social danger from "voluntary" sterilization is that it is only a
half step away from forced sterilization. If people reject the reality that sterilization is a
serious evil, accepting it as a "morally neutral act," the way is paved for coerced
sterilization.29 In any functional social order, citizens may be morally compelled to do
certain things, but they may not morally be forced to perform evil actions nor forced to
consent to them. For example, traffic laws force us to limit our speed, but there is
nothing inherently evil in driving slower. Such legitimate laws are morally justified
forms of coercion.
However, sterilization attacks the physical integrity of the human person. While this
may be justified as a punishment for crime, the evil of sterilization should not be forced
on anyone as a matter of social policy. The Nazis held differently: those considered
"unfit" by Nazi standards lost their right to reproduce.
Indira Gandhi launched a massive coerced sterilization campaign that led to her
electoral defeat. In the United States, Margaret Sanger, foundress of Planned
Parenthood, advocated sterilization of the poor,30 and there have been other attempts
at forced sterilization for population control.31
How does religion view sterilization?
Before 1930, no Christian Church accepted sterilization or any form of contraception as
morally acceptable. The Catholic Church and some Protestant Churches still teach that
deliberate sterilization is an immoral form of birth control. "Equally to be excluded [as
morally permissible], as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared,
is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the
woman" (, 14).32
Is there a safe and healthy alternative?
Yes. Even for the couple who have a most serious reason to avoid pregnancy, the
Sympto-Thermal Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP) offers a realistic and moral
alternative. No methods are 100% effective (except total abstinence or castration), but
studies of SymptoThermal Methods have shown remarkably high effectiveness rates.33
One study of a temperature-only form of NFP showed an unplanned pregnancy rate
below that for vasectomy and tubal ligation sterilization.34
How can I learn about Natural Family Planning?
Contact The Couple to Couple League either in your own area or at its national office in
Editor's Note: This is the text of one of CCL's newest brochures. As you can see, it is
heavily referenced (34 references); however, because of space limitations we are unable
to reprint all the references here. For one free copy of this brochure, please send a self-
addressed, stamped business-size envelope to:
Couple to Couple League
P.O. Box 111184
Cincinnati, OH 45211
This would be an excellent brochure to pass along to someone considering tubal
ligation. Additional copies are .20 each plus a self-addressed, stamped businesssize
Taken from the November-December 1995 issue of CCL's "Family Foundations." To
subscribe write: The Couple to Couple League, P.O. Box 111184, Cincinnati, OH 45211.
Published 6 times a year and sent as a benefit to all members who contribute $18.00 or