By any measure, natural family planning is a winner

by: Archbishop Joseph Naumann

In last week’s column, I explained why the church teaches that it is immoral for a married couple to use artificial contraception. Does this mean couples have no control over the number and spacing of their children?

The church does not instruct couples as to how many children they should have or when they should have children. It encourages couples to be generous in their openness to being co-creators with God of new human life. At the same, time the church urges couples to be responsible parents — not just giving life to children, but doing their best to care for the material, emotional and spiritual needs of their children.
Without resorting to the immoral means of artificial contraception, married couples today, through the science of natural family planning, have more control over the number and spacing of their children. NFP is fundamentally different from artificial contraception. NFP does not interfere with the fertility of the couple, but uses their understanding of their own fertility cycle to help conceive a child or, when they deem best for their family, to take moral and prudent measures to avoid pregnancy.

Every Catholic couple should be knowledgeable about NFP. It is an effective, scientific method that teaches a couple to recognize the natural signs indicating the time of fertility in the woman ’s cycle. It is said that knowledge is power, and that is certainly true for couples who understand and can interpret the natural signs of fertility.

Is it impossible for a couple to become pregnant when using NFP? No. However, neither is it impossible for conception to occur when a couple is using oral or any other form of artificial contraception. Actually, the method effectiveness for avoiding pregnancy for NFP is comparable to the method effectiveness of oral contraceptives.

Advocates of artificial contraception will point out that couples utilizing NFP to avoid pregnancy must refrain from sexual intercourse during certain days, while those using oral contraceptives need not abstain. This is true. However, according to the testimony of NFP couples, while abstaining is not always easy, it actually serves to strengthen their marital relationship. These periods of abstinence force couples to utilize other ways to express their love for each other.

Couples testify that NFP improves communication within their marriage. Unlike artificial contraceptives, which usually involve the woman having to take chemicals to disrupt her healthy fertility cycle, NFP requires husband and wife to work together making mutual sacrifices. NFP couples often speak about how NFP improves the romance in their relationship and actually enriches their sexual life.

Artificial contraception relies on chemically attacking the healthy functioning of a woman ’s body. It is one thing to take a medication and endure side effects to treat a disease, but oral contraceptives are designed to disrupt what is healthy and natural.

The possible side effects of oral contraceptives include bleeding, depression, migraine headaches, nausea, vomiting, water retention, weight gain, yeast infection, elevation in blood pressure, and strokes.
Manufacturers admit that oral contraceptives do not always prevent fertilization (conception) from occurring. Oral contraceptives are not 100 percent effective if they are used as prescribed. When a woman fails to follow strictly the prescribed method of taking a pill at the same time daily, the effectiveness rate of oral contraceptives drops significantly.

Of course, not every woman is always able to order her life around her birth control medication schedule. Even at 99 percent effectiveness, if a woman is on birth control through much of her fertile years, then there is obviously a possibility of an unintended conception of a new life.

One of the ways in which many oral contraceptives achieve their high effectiveness rate is through a secondary mechanism that does not prevent fertilization, but makes the lining of the uterus hostile to the implantation of a newly conceived embryo. These oral contraceptives do not always necessarily prevent pregnancy, but may actually cause a very early abortion of a newly conceived human life.

It is impossible to know how often this secondary mechanism actually happens for any particular woman. Yet, if a woman is contracepting over a long period of time, the chances of this happening at some point in a woman ’s life obviously increases.

The only type of male contraception that is frequently employed is a vasectomy. When couples have had as many children as they desire, sometimes a husband will choose to have a vasectomy so that his wife no longer has to endure the side effects of oral contraceptives. Vasectomy is a form of sterilization, which, of course, requires surgery and can only be reversed through another surgery. In effect, a vasectomy is a form of voluntary mutilation. A man chooses to have surgery that actually impairs the healthy functioning of his body.

NFP does involve knowledge, communication, discipline and sacrifice. However, it does not require a woman to endure harmful physical side effects resulting from waging chemical warfare on the healthy, normal fertility of her body. It does not require a man to agree to the surgical mutilation of his body. NFP does not run the risk, as do oral contraceptives, of the possibility of causing a very early abortion. Moreover, NFP avoids the serious moral problems with every artificial contraceptive.

NFP respects our fertility and sexuality as God has created. It has no physical or moral side effects. Besides the cost of educating oneself, there are no financial costs to NFP. Couples practicing NFP maintain an openness to being co-creators with God of a new human life, but use knowledge of their own fertility to make more informed choices as they strive to discern God ’s plan for them. From a cost-benefit analysis, NFP is a winner.

Used by permission -
The Leaven, the newspaper for the Kansas City, KS archdiocese