Life Matters —The Newsletter of the Respect Life Office of the Diocese of Rockford
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Associate Director, Respect Life Office
Mention “NFP” to the uninformed and the eyes may roll with thoughts of the old, unreliable “rhythm” method. Being unaware of the various natural, healthy, and Church approved methods available today for achieving and postponing pregnancies, the uninitiated may quickly dismiss NFP as ineffective and irrelevant.
Today’s NFP methods—awareness and appreciation of a woman’s natural cycle of fertility—are very reliable. By learning to identify these natural signs of fertility, couples may—while always remaining open to the gift of children—avoid a pregnancy.
Beauty and Benefits
There are many benefits (for body, mind, and soul) in following the teachings of the Church on the use of NFP. Some of the most commonly reported benefits include: marriage enrichment; greater respect for husband and wife; appreciation for the blessings of every child; esthetic and ethical acceptability; lack of harmful side effects for the woman; effective in achieving pregnancy; easy to learn; and low cost.
Divorce rates for NFP couples have been reported from a low of 1% to a “high” of 5%. There is little, if any, evidence that couples who began their marriages understanding and practicing NFP ended in divorce.
Fact vs Fiction
Many Catholics are confused about the teaching of the church on contraception. Some believe that the decision on whether or not contraception may be used is a matter of “individual conscience.” Others believe that even the use NFP is wrong. What is the truth?
As difficult as it may be for some to accept—and contrary to the writings of some moral theologians—the Church is very clear that contraception is intrinsically evil. It is seriously and morally wrong (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2370). That being said, the Church does not teach that married couples must have as many children as possible. While couples are to be generous in terms of the number of children they have, for just reasons (CCC #2368), they may use NFP to space their children or limit the size of their family.
As stated in Humana Vitae (“On the Regulation of Birth”) #10, “In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth.”
Follow Your Conscience?
What about those individuals who believe that they may follow their conscience in reference to contraception? The Catechism (#1786) states, “Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.”
The Catechism further states in #1789 that “Some rules [in choosing to act in accordance with conscience] apply in every case: One may never do evil so that good may result from it…” Humanae Vitae #14 addresses this concept when it states, “…if it is sometimes licit to tolerate a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil or to promote a greater good, it is not licit, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil so that good may follow therefrom…”
Protestants Sam and Bethany Torode, in their newly published book, Open Embrace, recognize the role of an faulty conscience when Bethany writes, “I’ve had married people tell me that they prayed about using contraception and God gave them the go-ahead. I’m skeptical of such statements because I know, from my own experience, that we often hear ‘God’s voice’ as filtered through our own cultural conditioning.”
NFP Is Not Contraception
Some individuals—recognizing the very low failure rate of NFP—insist that NFP is no different from non-abortifacient contraception and therefore should not be practiced by faithful Catholics. This view, however, is not in accordance with the authoritative teachings of the Church. The Catechism (#2370) teaches that “[p]eriodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.”
NFP is not contraception. Rather, it is a method of fertility awareness and appreciation. It does nothing to attack fertility, does not withhold the gift of oneself from one's spouse, nor block the procreative nature of intercourse.
The Church teaches if a couple engages in the marital act, they must not do anything to deliberately prevent natural law from taking effect. Each act of intercourse must be an act of total self-giving and must be open to the possibility of new life. If there is no such conjugal act, there is no contraception.
In terms of intention, both contracepting and NFP couples may be trying to avoid a pregnancy, but the means to the end are very different. It is similar to two men who need money. They both go to the bank. One obtains a loan and the other robs the bank. Same intention. Different means. The end does not justify the means.
The contracepting couple blocks the both the unitive and the procreative nature of the marital act, while the NFP couple limits the occurrence of intercourse to the wife’s natural periods of infertility. The NFP couple is simply observing a God-given cycle—there is no unnatural barrier between husband and wife.
The Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities says, “It is noteworthy that as acceptance and use of contraception have increased in our society, so have acceptance and use of abortion. Couples who unintentionally conceive a child while using contraception are far more likely to resort to abortion than others. Tragically, our society has fallen into a mentality that views children as a burden and invites many to consider abortion as a ‘backup’ to contraceptive failure….An end to abortion will not come from contraceptive campaigns but from a deeper understanding of our human sexuality, and of human life, as sacred gifts deserving our careful stewardship.”
And, let us not forget that one of the mechanisms of certain chemical forms of “contraception” (including, but not limited to the various forms of “The Pill,” Depo-Provera, Norplant, the IUD, and so-called “emergency contraception”) is to make the endometrium hostile to implantation. This may then result in a very early abortion.
We encourage you to learn more about NFP and the Church’s teachings on related matters. Some of the best sources for information include the Catechism of the Catholic Church; Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, Casti Connubii, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Donum Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, Gaudium et Spes, and Veritatis Splendor.