Batrice Adcock: Natural Family Planning empowers and liberates
"Jesus, I trust in you" – this is the phrase associated with the increasingly popular devotion to the Divine Mercy. Jesus promises to give us grace for help in daily life in accordance with our degree of trust. How much do we trust when looking to Jesus in prayer to help us make a generous, yet responsible decision about family planning? Do we take time to inform our consciences on related Church teaching? It is so easy for many to trust our culture instead, with its overwhelming pressure to contracept.
Natural family planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for many methods of family planning which are morally acceptable. Couples are trained to track the menstrual cycle and identify the fertile time, which is about a week. The facts surrounding NFP versus artificial contraceptive use make a compelling argument in favor of trusting Church teaching.
Effectiveness must first be considered. Modern methods of NFP are up to 99.6 percent effective. This is not the old "rhythm method"! NFP methods can also help couples achieve pregnancy. For couples struggling with infertility, Naprotechnology-based treatments, which are associated with NFP and aim at identifying and correcting underlying health problems, are between about 38 and 81 percent effective, depending on the cause of infertility. The effectiveness of in-vitro fertilization, which is riddled with ethical problems, significant cost and health risk, is only between 21 and 27 percent effective.
Another important consideration is health risk associated with hormonal contraceptive use. Side effects range from nausea, headaches and decreased sexual interest to high blood pressure, depression and stroke. The World Heath Organization has classified oral contraceptives as Group 1 carcinogens based on strong evidence that they may cause cancer. This is reinforced by several recent studies pointing to the increased risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer in women who have taken oral contraceptives. The most serious risk is not for the woman, but for babies she may conceive, as all forms of hormonal contraception and the IUD have the potential of causing early abortions.
By contrast, using NFP gives women valuable health information. The American Academy of Pediatrics and College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have called the menstrual cycle another vital sign. Health problems can be detected in NFP charts early in their progression, offering the possibility for more effective treatment. A related point is that there are alternatives to the birth control pill for treating common women's health problems such as irregular cycles and heavy bleeding. The pill does not treat the underlying problem, and significant health risks are added.
Other benefits of using NFP include better communication and a lower divorce rate between spouses who are faced monthly with the task of evaluating whether it is a good time for potential conception. Issues in the family – financial, health or otherwise – remain on the table and are more quickly resolved. The Church encourages couples to discern prayerfully and practically, considering their responsibilities. The divorce rate of less than 3 percent among NFP couples is due not only to this healthy communication, but to the respect spouses show each other in cooperating with the woman's physiology. Rather than risking the woman's health for temporary pleasure from contracepted sex, the man is willing to love her unconditionally and exercise self-control. Feminists can jump on a new band-wagon here!
The list of NFP benefits goes on, including environmental respect, shared responsibility for family planning between spouses, the ability to be used in special circumstances, such as after coming off hormonal birth control or having a baby, but perhaps the greatest is that just implied: Spouses learn the self-giving and sacrificial love of Jesus! Married couples vow to love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful. Isn't a contracepting couple that feels the need to use pornography or some other perverse behavior to increase sexual interest enslaved to sexual desire? Or, isn't a couple using a barrier, physical or chemical, or through sterilization, in effect neutering themselves? Are they making a complete gift of themselves in one flesh, imaging God, as male and female, as Scripture teaches? Do they not in effect mock the love that Jesus showed us on the Cross and asked us to imitate?
The Church is not waging a war on women, but is standing up in defense of women, offering an option that is empowering, improves marriages and deepens faith. Women are being liberated, and families are being renewed. In light of the facts, we are encouraged to trust the Church!
Batrice Adcock is the director of the diocesan Natural Family Planning Program for Catholic Social Services.
National NFP Awareness Week 2012, "Faithfully Yours," will be celebrated July 22-28. This annual education campaign by the U.S. bishops coincides with the anniversary of the papal encyclical "Humanae Vitae" (July 25) which articulates Catholic beliefs about human sexuality, conjugal love and responsible parenthood. The dates also mark the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne (July 26), the parents of the Blessed Mother.