Natural Family Planning - “Why Not?"

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It is a widely discussed fact that approximately 90% of married Catholics today do not follow the Church’s teachings on family planning.

Why not?

Certainly there are many reasons, but perhaps the most common is a simple lack of understanding about what the Church actually teaches.

The Church does NOT teach that married couples must do nothing to plan or space the births of their children, nor is Natural Family Planning a way to “trick” couples into having children they are unable to properly care for.

Humanae Vitae (Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on the regulation of births) says it quite clearly; “if we then attend to the relevant physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, those are considered to exercise responsible parenthood who prudently and generously decide to have a large family, or who, for serious reasons and with due respect to the moral law, choose to have no more children for the time being or even for an indeterminate period.”  So, in fact, it is the formal teaching of the Church that while all couples should be generous in their acceptance of children, the great responsibility of raising those children often necessitates having fewer children than biologically possible.  Understanding this and appreciating the beautiful way in which God has designed a woman’s fertility, the Catholic church holds up Natural Family Planning as the way for couples to effectively plan their families as well as to “recognize the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion, and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity.”  (Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Familiaris Consortio: On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) Properly learned and consistently practiced, modern methods of Natural Family Planning are as effective as contraceptives for avoiding pregnancy and can be used by almost all couples regardless of cycle irregularity, breastfeeding, peri-menopause or a host of medical conditions that impact fertility.

The Church does NOT teach that all means of family planning are equal or that it how they will plan their family is a matter for the couple to decide for themselves.

The issue of freedom of conscience should be an article in and of itself, but for now let us just note that the Catholic Church has never, EVER, in more than 2000 years, taught that any form of family planning other than NFP is morally acceptable.  In fact, until 1930 ALL Christian churches taught that the use of contraceptives  – even for married couples with the gravest of reasons to avoid pregnancy – was seriously immoral.

Following the development of modern pharmaceutical contraceptives (like the birth control pill) and the acceptance in 1930 by the Anglican church of contraceptive use by married couples, there was — and continues to be — much dissent from this teaching, but the truth remains that the Catholic Church has always, and continues to today, to teach with her highest authority that “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2370)

Perhaps some couples cannot see how there is any difference between NFP and contraception – after all, both are means to the same end – but to paraphrase Dr. Janet Smith in her wonderful talk, “Contraception; Why Not?” (available from One More Soul at www.omsoul.com); if there isn’t any difference, why not just use NFP?

As Catholics we believe that our Popes and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church are ever guided by the Holy Spirit and that their teachings in matters of faith and morals are always trustworthy.  Consider the following passage from Humanae Vitae (written in 1968):

“Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of [contraception].  Let them first consider how easily this course of action can lead the way to being wide open to marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards . . . Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

“Finally, grave consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of moral law.  Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty?”

We have only to look at the soaring divorce rate, the frightening statistics on spousal abuse and marital infidelity and the dreadful things done in the name population control in communist nations to see how inspired Pope Paul VI truly was.

We may not always be able to see or understand the reasons behind why the Church teaches as she does, but faith (and experience) show us that even when cannot see the big picture, God can and the official teachings of His Church are to be believed.

So why not make the leap of faith and become a part of the 10% who do embrace this teaching?

God is exceptionally generous to those who faithfully follow His will as revealed through the teachings of His Catholic Church and there are many practical benefits for those who choose NFP (including improved communication between spouses, an impressively low divorce rate of less than 5%, freedom from the cost, bother and side effects associated with contraception), but more importantly there are the freedom and joy that come with holding back nothing from God.

What is NFP?

Every fertile woman experiences recurring signs of her fertility. Natural Family Planning (NFP) teaches a woman to recognize and record these signs so that she can identify the days in each cycle when conception is possible and spouses can plan the timing of their marital relations according to their desire either to avoid or achieve pregnancy.

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