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.