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I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Natural Family Planning is not an "organic" alternative to "The Pill"

There has been so much discussion about Natural Family Planning (NFP) all over the blogosphere in the last few weeks. I’ve been leaving my thoughts in so many comment boxes I decided to finally publish my ideas on my own blog site.

I noticed an uptick in the discussion of NFP when the Journal of Medical Ethics published this article by Professor Luc Bovens. He asserts that the “rhythm method” is responsible for more embryo deaths than any other form of contraception. American Papist covered this ridiculous claim very well here and here. I published the following comment on the Dialogue blog:

As a physician let me comment on the "embryo destruction". Once an ovum is fertilized it becomes an embryo. This embryo must then implant in the lining of the uterus to establish a viable pregnancy. Factors in both the embryo and the uterus must be right for this implantation to occur.

It is thought that embryos with significant abnormalities are less likely to implant. If they do not implant they are shed with the monthly menstrual cycle. A woman will not even know that fertilization took place.

What Professor Bovens alleges is that the embryo conceived on the fringes of the fertile period are more likely to fail to implant. I have never heard this assertion before. However, even if that is true, it implies that the embryo conceived at the fringes of fertility contain fatal flaws incompatible with a viable pregnancy.

This is actually the same principle that makes it harder for older women to become pregnant. It is thought that the ova of older women are not as robust and less likely to form a viable embryo.

Contrast this with the abortifacient action of the IUD (the coil in Dr. Boven's comments). In this case, a perfectly viable embryo is formed but the IUD lodged in the lining of the uterus keeps it in such an inflamed state it is unable to support the implantation of the viable embryo. This is also the concern about the abortifacient activity of oral contraceptives. Sometimes the oral contraceptives do not prevent conception but the hormonal effects make the uterus unable to receive the embryo.


Now the discussion is heating up. The Pontifical Council for the Family has published a document “Family and Human Procreation. Once again, Thomas at American Papist has a good collection of the news about this important document. The quote that is ruffling quite a few feathers is”

When for the good of the entire family it is best to avoid having another child, couples can abstain from sexual intercourse during fertile periods to avoid a pregnancy

However, using natural family planning to have only one or a maximum of two children is nothing other than a kind of series of brief parentheses within an entire conjugal life willingly made sterile


The key point here is that just because NFP is “natural” and without chemicals or mechanical devices, it is not always moral. It is not an “organic” alternative to The Pill. If NFP is applied with the same contraceptive mentality that is used with artificial contraception the moral implications are the same.

The typical secular contraceptive mentality sets the default position as saying, “no” to children. For brief times during the marriage, the couple says “yes” and conception ensues. The Catholic teaching is the default position is “yes” to children. For a limited time during the marriage it may be better to avoid conception for the good of the family. During that time, NFP can be used to decrease the probability of conception. The legitimacy of a couple’s decision to avoid pregnancy is a matter of spiritual discernment. A bigger house, sportier car, or the avoidance of having to shop at Costco for large jars of mayonnaise are not appropriate reasons to avoid pregnancy. However, real reasons to put space between children do exist.

I have been married nearly twenty-two years and have four great kids. However, no one ever talked bluntly to me about Catholic teachings on contraception before I got married. All the pre-Canna classes danced around this issue as if the engaged couples would head for the hills if we were told the truth. It was assumed we all knew the Church forbid contraception but we were going to do what we wanted anyway so don’t worry about it. It took years of marriage, prayer, study, and reflection to come to a deep appreciation and love for the Church’s teaching on marriage and pro-creation. I can’t help but think that if I could have reached this understanding sooner, we might have had one or two more kids.

Our parish is enjoying the June surge of weddings. I will add a prayer for all these newlyweds to my petitions. I pray they will enjoy the grace of total self-giving love in their marriage. May their marriage model the love of Christ for his Church. May they grow to see the wisdom and beauty of Catholic teachings on marriage.

11 comments:

M. Alexander said...

Dear Catholic Mom,

Why not give them a copy of Casti Connubi as a wedding gift? The Daughers of St. Paul sells prints of it and it is a beautiful document if you've never read it.
Mary

Catholic Mom said...

For those who would like to read Casti Connubi you can find it here. Mary, thanks for a wonderful idea.

Anonymous said...

I have been married nearly twenty-two years and have four great kids. However, no one ever talked bluntly to me about Catholic teachings on contraception before I got married. All the pre-Canna classes danced around this issue as if the engaged couples would head for the hills if we were told the truth. It was assumed we all knew the Church forbid contraception but we were going to do what we wanted anyway so don’t worry about it. It took years of marriage, prayer, study, and reflection to come to a deep appreciation and love for the Church’s teaching on marriage and pro-creation. I can’t help but think that if I could have reached this understanding sooner, we might have had one or two more kids.

Let me add a hearty "Amen". During our pre-cana, the priest, when asked about the Church's stand on contraception, told us "the Church teaches us to follow our conscience".

Woo Hoo!!! I didn't see anything wrong with it, so my spouse and I went on our marry way.

Now 7 years after a vasectomy, I have come to the realization that my priest did us a great disservice, and I am trying to put my anger toward him aside.

I have confessed, and I will live forever with the knowledge that I am damaged goods. I would be happy to follow God's will, were I able to. :(

Sarah said...

I agree with you that NFP is not an organic solution to the Pill. What's in our hearts is what makes the difference in our actions, so that an action that is "acceptable" and within the realms of Church teaching can be "wrong" if our intentions are misplaced. Couples need to discern for themselves. I think sometimes that what looks like it might have worked, when you look back over your life, might not have been possible for you to accept at the time. But now I'm babbling. Thanks for the great food for thought!

Michelle said...

I agree whole-heartedly with everything here, but also want to point out that thinking of murder, plotting murder, attempting murder and committing murder are not all equally sinful. Using NFP as contraception, using an IUD as contraception, and having an abortion are also not equally sinful, especially if you include ignorance of wrongdoing in the equation (knowledge of wrongdoing being a necessary condition for committing a mortal sin). God will likely judge me harsher if I have used NFP as contraception (knowing my heart as He does) than He will judge my sister who in ignorance had a tubal ligation or the many Catholic women I know who use the Pill with a clear conscience. But if I have sinfully used NFP as contraception, I think it weighs much lighter on my conscience than does the first year of my marriage where I was on the Pill because of problems with my cycle, happily taking advantage of the contraceptive side-effects of a drug being used to treat my long, heavy bleeding and also happily ignorant of the possibility of fertilized eggs being unable to implant in my uterus.

Jennifer F. said...

The typical secular contraceptive mentality sets the default position as saying, “no” to children. For brief times during the marriage, the couple says “yes” and conception ensues. The Catholic teaching is the default position is “yes” to children.

Wow, I don't think I've ever seen the issue summarized more concisely. I forwarded this post to a few people who I've been debating NFP with recently. Thanks for a great post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It's like the Lord was speaking to me through you. Thank you. I am on my 4th pregnancy. My children are all 2 years apart. I've been stuggling to accept this pregnancy and asking if this was really from God or a result of irresponsibility on our part. Upon reading your post, I've realized that we have been responsible, abstaining when we thought I was fertile. God has obviously chosen to give us another child. I am not sure if I've explained clearly what an epiphany this has been. Blame it one the hormones! LOL.
So, thank you again.
God bless you.

Catholic Mom said...

God bless you and your child. I know exactly how you feel. I used the word "epiphany" as well when I finally grasped what God and the Church are calling me to do with regards to family planning.

Anonymous said...

interesting, but fallacious and potentially misleading logic. i think it would be impossible to seperate the use of natural family planning from a contraceptive mentality, at least in the sense that the whole point of natural family planning is a reasoned spacing of pregnancies aka avoiding a pregnancy via abstenance. the point pope jpII is making is, twofold, one must truly feel that a pregnancy cannot at that time be handled for very limited reasons...and that the manner used to avoid said pregnancy continue to keep the married act sacred. i don't think anyone can possibly be any more anti-conception than when they are abstaining from intercourse. the focus should not be on the method used here, which in fact is sanctioned by the church, nor strictly on whether that method is indeed used to avoid a pregnancy (contraceptive mentality)....again, abstenance to avoid pregnancy, that's a no brainer. the focus should be placed carefully on why one would consider the need for avoiding a pregnancy. it is here that one should prayfully consider their motives. and then these considerations should be between them and God.

Catholic Mom said...

Annonymous,

I think we are actually saying the same thing. When I use the term, "contraceptive mentality" I am referring to the long term view that avoiding pregnancy is the "normal" state and allowing conception is the exception. On the other hand, Catholic teaching asks us to be open to life as the normal state and the avoidance of pregnancy is the exception.

Anonymous said...

yes, upon rereading your text i realized we are saying pretty much the same thing, i just felt some clarification could be used so that people didn't automatically think that nfp as it reflects an albeit temporary, contraceptive mentality therefore equals nfp is bad. as a side note i have to say that as someone who does practice nfp (to space children i already have had 5 pregnancies in 9 years of marriage) i find it almost funny that the church feels it has to clarify this issue...for nfp to actually work it entails alot of abstenance....so the notion that people might use it to have only one or two children i actually find quite funny. but this is the beauty of nfp i think, eventual abstenance just gets old and this usually means another child. which i believe is what you were saying....i just do think there are times when in fact i am quite ademantly trying not to have another pregnancy...mostly because, i just delivered a baby! so, at least temporarily the contraceptive mentality IS there, it just means we have to have self control to make it work. god bless.

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