The Catholic Church has never opposed family planning, but she teaches through her Magisterium, or teaching authority, that man may not, of his own volition, separate the two meanings of the conjugal act, the unitive and the procreative, because these meanings are willed by God himself.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a function of God’s will is also a function of the natural law. For years, we have been waging war on our fertility in the practice of artificial birth control to the point that many countries, especially in the West, are demographically below replacement levels. On the other hand, while vast numbers of women are ignorant of the significance of those changing mucus sensations, modern methods of NFP, if the intention is to avoid/postpone pregnancy, are scientifically secure. Natural Family Planning also has several advantages which benefit the marriage. Concluding, the article proposes (read please) that all Catholic physicians begin to conduct “NFP- Only” practices.
Following my becoming aware of the Billings Ovulation Method™ in November of 1973, I went through a conversion experience because I saw its value. Since that time, as an obstetrician/gynecologist, I supported, promoted, and taught the method both in, and outside of, my practice. At the same time, I saw no need to become certified because of my in-depth understanding of reproductive physiology. Fast forward 40 years. In July 2013, an opportunity to take formal certification training in the Method presented itself. I did so and was very much impressed with the excellent presentation(s) of the two women trainers, Kim Cole, and Erika Watkins. Conclusion: I only wish I had taken this training 30 years ago!
The doctors John and Lyn Billings (R.I.P.) are two of my heroes. A photograph of both of them graces my bedroom wall. My support and promotion of the Billings Ovulation MethodTM stems from its essential simplicity. The Method is based on the sensations a woman feels at the vulva and contains only four rules–three pre-ovulatory and one post-ovulatory. While most women have taught themselves to ignore those changing mucus sensations, once the cause and effect of their existence is suggested to a woman, she can no longer ignore the physiologic symptoms of her fertility. I believe that Dr. John Billings, et al, will go down in the annals of medical research as some of the very greatest.
“Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” Thus reads the fourth clause of the Our Father. The problem is that his will is not being done on Earth. While this may sound somewhat rudimentary, it is the truth. But how do we know the will of God? St. Thomas Aquinas, following the lead of St. Augustine, defined three types of law that define the will of God: Eternal Law, Divine Law, and Natural Law. There is another kind of Law: Human Law, which is valid only when just. This paper will focus on the Natural Law and its implications for mankind. But what is Natural Law? Natural Law is a rule of reason, promulgated by God in man’s nature, whereby man can discern how he/she should act so that good is to be done, and evil is to be avoided. In its simplest form, Natural Law commands us: “to do good and avoid evil, 1 and St. Augustine maintained that this law is written on the heart of every person.
If the first of God’s gifts to us is the gift of life itself, then one may argue that our second most precious gift is the gift of our fertility. God’s first command to Adam and Eve after the fall was to “be fruitful and multiply.”
In a previous article, 2 we maintained that while pregnancy is not a disease, more fundamentally, neither is our fertility, which is a healthy physiologic component of the sexually mature person. Given the present milieu, it seems that we are waging war on our fertility in the practice of contraception, i.e., artificial birth control. While this may sound countercultural, this war is attested to by the current armamentarium of barriers, chemicals, abortifacients, and even the knife. The medical profession is undeniably active in promoting this war. Under these circumstances, the furnishing of these modalities which treat a normal physiologic function of the sexually mature human being as a disease, must be a violation of the Natural Law and, therefore, evil and opposed to the will of God. Furthermore, one of the results of this war is that many countries, especially in the West, are demographically below replacement levels. While our non-Catholic brethren in the medical profession do not necessarily see this evil for what it is, Catholic physicians should have no problem seeing the logic of this position.
What has the “sexual revolution,” which began over 50 years ago, wrought with the availability of the birth control pill? It encouraged infidelity, increasing divorce rates, increased out-of-wedlock pregnancies, pornography, blatant homosexuality, promiscuity of all sorts, the spread of sexually transmitted disease, and massive abortion and contraceptive industries. 3
Perhaps, the greatest evil of the contraceptive culture in which we live is that it allows men to avoid their responsibilities, and also enables men to use women as objects for the man’s own sexual pleasure. This denies women the dignity and respect that they are entitled to as our wives and the mothers of our children, not to mention the denial of their normal cyclic fertility. For his own reasons, our heavenly Father placed in the hands of women the key to the control of human fertility. Therefore, today, to refer to the HHS mandate as an issue in “women’s health care” is the height of duplicity. It is clear that contraception acts as the gateway to the culture of death. I have little confidence in a legislative, political, or judicial solutions to the abortion controversy. I believe abortion will stop. But it will not stop until all people take on their own shoulders the responsibility for the control of their own fertility in the practice of some modern method of NFP.
Natural Family Planning
The Catholic Church has never opposed family planning, but she teaches through her Magisterium, or teaching authority, that man may not, of his own volition, separate the two meanings of the conjugal act, the unitive and the procreative, because these meanings are willed by God himself (Humanae Vitae §12). Over the years of his pontificate, and even before, Blessed John Paul II, the Great, spoke and wrote extensively on the subject of human sexuality. Two areas in which he spoke on the subject are in sections 118 to 131 in his Theology of the Body 4 and in a work entitled “The Foundation of the Church’s Doctrine Concerning the Principles of Conjugal Life,” 5 published in 1966, in which Karol Cardinal Wojtyla was the primary director of research.
The title of Part 1 of “The Foundation of the Church’s Doctrine” reads: “The Natural Law as Foundation for the Condemnation of Contraception by the Magisterium of the Church, i.e., on natural morality. This statement revolves around the following three questions: (1) “Does the Church have the right to make authoritative pronouncements on matters of morality and natural law?”; (2) “Is her teaching on this subject infallible or not?”; and, (3) “Can this teaching change?” Those in favor of allowing contraception answered the first two questions in the negative, and the third question in the affirmative. On the other hand, those who upheld the constant teaching of the Catholic Church answered the first two questions in the affirmative, and the third question in the negative; they “emphasize(d) that the immutability of human nature provides an objective foundation to natural law” as upheld by the ordinary Magisterium. Furthermore, beginning in the 19th century, under the pontificate of Pope Pius IX in 1854, no less than 29 documents attested to the Church’s position on this matter based on natural law. 6
Following on these documents, three conclusions may be drawn: (1) The Church, in her official teaching, condemns contraception as being morally evil and impermissible; (2) the teaching on this subject is consistent from Popes Pius XI to Paul VI (even before Humanae Vitae), the latter having neither revoked nor questioned it; and, (3) the condemnation of contraception from the point of view of morality is considered by the Church as a norm of natural law and, therefore, an objective norm flowing from nature, immutable and obligatory for all, and not only for Catholics. In the long run, when everything is said and done in the contraception, sterilization, abortion controversy, the Catholic Church will come out smelling like a rose.
A true method of family planning must be a method that can be used to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. In a very real sense, methods of Natural Family Planning, and fertility awareness, are the only true methods of family planning for the simple reason that they are the only methods that can be employed either to achieve or avoid pregnancy. All other methods can only be used to prevent pregnancy. An excellent article 7—which one can heartily recommend, by Pilar Vigil, M.D., Ph.D., (and others) and which describes the values of fertility awareness and NFP— appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Linacre Quarterly. Fr. Matthew Habiger, Associate Director of NFP Outreach stated: “It is the natural right of all women of childbearing age to be aware of those symptoms of fertility awareness.” Additionally, Dr. Hanna Klaus also has perfected a curriculum, entitled “Teen STAR,” which teaches youngsters to hold their sexuality and fertility in profound respect.
How does the Church justify its condemnation of contraception? First of all, this condemnation is based on the human person: the individual’s dignity, rights, and values. Secondly, the person’s power of co-creating (transmitting life) is a gift of God, but human intellect has discovered biologic laws which command the person to follow the dictates of Humanae Vitae, which is grounded in truth. Next, the natural law demands that a person should never be used as an object for one’s own ends, egged on, so to speak, by concupiscence. Rather, the virtues of justice and love should govern relations between persons and that the marital embrace be guided by the virtue of chastity. In fact, John Paul II asserted in his Theology of the Body that the practice of Natural Family Planning in marriage is the practice of conjugal chastity, and defined periodic continence as a virtue.
Furthermore, the “Foundation for the Condemnation of Contraception” asserts that both man and woman enjoy an equality in marriage, i.e., in their nature, in their right of contracting marriage, but also marked by the differences in the sexes. While the normal sexually mature male is continuously fertile from puberty, the woman is only periodically fertile through relatively short but relatively frequent periods of time. In this regard, contraception makes no contribution to the woman’s personal rights, and primarily benefits the male, as stated above, relieving him of his responsibility.
In both the “Foundation for the Condemnation of Contraception” and Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he makes the assertion that the sexual instinct in man is “without a doubt, one of the strongest instincts” and taught that periodic abstinence, i.e., continence, is a virtue. In addition, he pointed out that the willingness to abstain from the marital act on occasion can be a greater act of love than the act itself.
So, Why NFP?
First and primarily, NFP is a function of the natural law and the will of God. This is so because God created man and woman in his image and likeness with an intellect, a will, and a memory. God, therefore, also created human sexuality, and with it, fertility; and ordained that this fertility provide a unitive and procreative meaning to the marital embrace. We are all called to lead chaste lives. Blessed John Paul II defined NFP as the practice of chastity within marriage. The practice of NFP requires precisely the same kind of commitment as marriage itself. The practice of NFP obligates the couple to discuss with one another, among other things, the availability, or not, of the marital embrace, thus increasing loving communication between the spouses.
While the divorce rate in this country, for Catholics and Protestants alike, is estimated at 50 percent, the divorce rate among couples using NFP is between 2 and 5 percent. 8 In other words, if you want your marriage to survive, you cannot contracept.
When feminists finally figure out how badly they have been deceived by the contraception industry, there is going to be an immense amount of anger, especially when they realize who their true friend has been.
When a wife sees that her husband is willing to deny himself for their mutual benefit, and the benefit of the family, this increases her love for him. It, on occasion, can be a greater act of love to abstain than to engage in the act itself.
While this may seem overly simplistic, there are only two essentials in the practice of NFP if the intention is to delay/avoid pregnancy: (1) that the woman temporarily defines the limits of the fertile phase of her reproductive cycle, and (2) that the couple willingly abstains from all genital contact during that time period.
Blessed John Paul II the Great also mentioned in the Theology of the Body that NFP is not without its difficulties. At the same time, it promises the couple both a courtship and a honeymoon each month.
And last but not least, the practice of NFP experientially teaches four virtues: Patience, Generosity, Self-Control, and Sexual Maturity.
Having said all of the above, there remains the proposal or plea, nay, the obligation, that all Catholic physicians commit to conduct “NFP Only” practices in obedience to the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Nothing short of this will act to defeat the culture of death in which we. live.
The Linacre Quarterly previously published significant portions of this essay as an editorial entitled “Why NFP” in Vol. 80, number 3, August 2013. The Linacre Quarterly is published by Maney Publishing on behalf of the copyright holders, the Catholic Medical Association. The Catholic Medical Association retains all rights, title, and interest in the copyright throughout the world for the above editorial for the full legal term of copyright. The Linacre Quarterly can be found online at:
www.maneypublishing.com/journals/lnq and www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/lnq.
Used by the author with permission.
- Rice, Charles E., “50 Questions on the Natural Law.” Ignatius Press,1995. Questions # 6, pp. 43–49 and #42, pp. 252 – 258. ↩
- Peck, R., Norris, C., “Significant Risks of Oral Contraceptives (OCP’s) Why This Drug Class Should Not Be Included in a Preventive Care Mandate.” Linacre Quarterly Vol. 79, No. 1 (2012): 41 -56. ↩
- Pope John Paul II., Man and Woman He Created Them. A Theology of the Body. Translated by Michael Waldstein. (Pauline Books and Media, Boston.) (2006): Introduction: p.1. ↩
- Ibid.: No.118 -131. ↩
- Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, et al., “The Foundation of the Church’s Doctrine Concerning the Principles of Conjugal Life.” Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 10, No.2 (2012): 321-59. ↩
- Ibid., p.325. ↩
- Pilar Vigil, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard F. Blackwell, Ph.D., and Manual E. Cortes, Ph.D. “The Importance of Fertility Awareness in the Assessment of a Woman’s Health. A Review.” The Linacre Quarterly 79(4) (November, 2012): 426-450. ↩
- McCrystal, Patrick. “Who’s at the Center of Your Marriage: The Pill or Jesus Christ?” Human Life International (Ireland), p.77 referencing Wilson, Mercedes. “The Practice of Natural Family Planning.” Catholic Social Sciences Review, Vol. VII, Nov. 2002. ↩