|GOD: The Best Family Planner|
|Overview of Birth Control Methods|
|Testimonial from a former Pill user|
|BIRTH CONTROL WARNING|
|Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward." - Psalm 127:3|
|A WORK IN PROGRESS
Churning out the final version of this essay has been quite an odessey which began while I was in college several years ago, preparing a paper on birth control for my ethics class. A Greek Orthodox Christian who had been left to her own conscience on the issue, I had decided to prove once and for all that contraception was acceptable. Something always bugged me about it, but I really knew nothing of the subject and so I was determined to become informed....and finally be able to exlain to myself, and others, just why it was OK. Contraception always seemed ideal to me at first thought, and so convenient for married couples. Of course, I was a teenager at the time and my idea of sex within marriage was pretty naive, basically that you can finally have all the sex you want and when you want it because after all, you've been a good Christian and saved yourself. Using the pill seemed to round out the picture perfectly because after all, too many children all at once might get in the way of all that sex you were entitled to. But as is so often the case in the Christian life, I realized there is little we are "entitled" to but much that we are commanded to do.
So my first mistake was a slightly skewed understanding of marital intimacy as purely a reward to those who had managed to remain celibate before wedlock. Granted, I always wanted a big family (like the one I grew up in), but I wanted it on my terms, and in my own good time. The pill, condoms, etc. didn't seem to mess up the picture. After all, my husband and I would need some reliable means to insure that we had our five children (no more, no less) when it was most convenient to have them. In the vanity of my youth, I somewhat snobbishly thought that fundamentalist Protestants and old-school Catholics that shunned all forms of birth control were slightly prehistoric, and either didn't know better, or had given up all hope of "controlling themselves." God forgive me for my callous attitude towards such godly souls, who knew better than I what it means to trust in God and lean on Him for sustenance. Such devout couples prove that in giving their meager give loaves and two fishes, they see God multiply them and shower His heavenly blessings upon them.
THE BLESSINGS OF CHILDREN
Have we forgotten that every child, even if you have 15 of them, is a blessing from God? In our society we seem to be more fearful that a woman will conceive an "unwanted child" more than we fear the loss of her immortal soul through sins such as promiscuity, fornication, adultery or the use of contraception with full knowledge of God's condemnation.
God has a plan for every child He creates. Christians mechanically assert this, yet continue to contracept, which would lead one to believe this statement has not been truly internalized. Our marriages should mirror our assent of abiding faith and trust in God's provision. When we say that we believe God will never abandon us (or our offspring) we should actually live as though we meant it!
Americans seem almost desperate to get rid of these little "environmental hazards" and "drains on the economy." Well, if we keep aborting and contracepting at our current rate, we're not going to have an economy, much less an economic base. Our population has been dramatically decreasing over the past few decades and the trend is far from slowing. History will show that when populations expand, after temporary shortages, human genius adapts, and is better off for having met the challenge. This is how civilizations grow and evolve. Demand calls for supply and the human spirit will always rise to the challenge.
The old nursery rhyme "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" should be stricken from the books and perhaps replaced with the story of St. Catherine of Siena who was number 24 of 25 children. She has been hailed as one of the greatest saints in the history of Christendom and declared by the Magesterium to be a Doctor of the Church. Most modern couples today barely get past 2 children and it gives us cause to wonder "what might have been." As Christian parents, God gives us the honor of populating Heaven, yet so many of us have thrown this amazing gift of fertility back in His face. Why? Pride is at the root of all sins, and certainly it applies here as well. Modernism, just like the devious serpent in Eden, tells us we know better than God how to do things. Of course, this extends to matters of reproduction. Thus we constantly hear from the other side that it's all a matter of private judgment, a personal matter that no one can tell us how to settle.
God sees things differently. He gives a command expecting it to be obeyed and this applies to His directives regarding sexuality. Because He is a kind and loving Father, His teachings are beneficial to us. That's why we can trust Him with our family planning. Our role as parents is to collaborate with God in the replication of mankind, NOT to dominate the whole process!
ALWAYS OPEN TO LIFE
Of course, grave situations may arise that necessitate the delay of a pregnancy. Serious health risk to the mother and dire poverty are two that quickly come to mind. However, even these situations do not permit the use of contraception. Expediency cannot make what is wrong - suddenly right. In such dire situations, couples must bear with the inconvenience of periodic abstinence during fertile periods. Observance of God's law is at times difficult, but this does not abrogate the law. To give a parallel example, it might be hard for a family to live in poverty, but that would not justify robbery to make things more convenient. When God said "Thou shalt not steal," He meant it. And when He commanded Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply," He meant that, too! So much so, that we see fruitfulness in offspring praised repeatedly in other Scriptural passages (Psalm 127, Malachi 2:14-16 and others). Conversely, we see the sin of Onan in "spilling his seed" as highly displeasing to the Lord.
Therefore, whenever a couple is to be united physically, says God, they must be open to life. In Malachi 2:15 we read "Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring." Pope Pius XI, reflecting on Saint Augustine's commentary on Saint Paul's letter to Timothy says "I wish young girls to marry." And as if someone said to him [the Apostle] "Why?" he immediately adds: "To bear children, to be mothers of families." (Galvin).The "be fruitful and multiply" command was not just confined to the Old Testament faithful, but taken seriously by the New Testament Church as well, and has continued to be the teaching of the living Catholic magesterium.
Injunctions against birth control are so abundant in the writings of the doctors and fathers of the Church, that they would require a separate essay on their own. Here are just a few examples:
"Because of it's divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children, 2:10:91:2)
"Sometimes this lustful cruelty or cruel lust goes so far as to seek a baneful sterility, and if this fails the fetus
conceived in the womb is in one way or another smothered or evacuated, in the desire to destroy the offspring
before it has life, or if it already lives in the womb, to kill it before it is born." (St. Augustine)
"Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit?...Indeed it is something worse than murder, and I do
not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed, but prevents its formation." (St. John Chrysostom,
Homilies on Romans).
"Next to murder, by which an actually existing human being is destroyed, we rank this sin by which the generation
of a human beign is prevented." (St. Thomas Aquinas).
From these writings, we can see why artificial methods are not soley condemned, but other methods as well, such as withdrawal and improper use of periodic abstinence. In the modern era, the popes still proclaim the primary purpose of marriage, in keeping with their predecessors: "Children are really the supreme gift of marriage." (Pope Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, Second Vatican Council).
At the Lambeth Conference in 1930, the Church of England was the first to permit the use of contraception among its followers. Like a stack of dominos, the other Protestant denominations followed suit, turning their backs on what once was a universally held teaching among Christian sects. Even our Orthodox brethren do not each that contraception is immoral, and the matter is traditionally left to the conscience of the married couple, coupled with the consultation of a priest. Of course, since one may get a wide array of answers from a wide array of priests, this has not served to safeguard the sacred deposit in the Eastern Orthodox churches. Granted, while among the clerics and laity today there may be found many rebellious Catholics, the official teaching still stands and rings true, no matter how much disobedience abounds.. And because the rejection of this universally held dogma is a rejection of divine truth, the reknowned Jesuit Father John Hardon does not say lightly "Professed Catholics who practice contraception either give up the practice of contraception or they give up their Catholic faith."
SACRIFICE IS PLEASING TO GOD
To sum up this "introduction" to my essay which deals specifically with the NFP method, let me offer one last reflection. Much seems to be made of the fact that if we are open to life, God may actually bless us with a large family. Nay, it might even be gargantuan - ten children or more! How would one deal with such a bunch? Couples since Jacob and Rachel have done so, and are still doing so without such unwarranted panic. Without going into the details of the happy and flourshing families of ten-plus that I personally know in my life, it must be said that having children involves sacrifice, whether it's one child or twenty. Christians should not be adverse to sacrifice, having as their supreme example the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And as procreation is a matter not just of the soul, but of the body, we should harken to the words of Saint Paul: "I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." (Romans 12:1) Couples open to life are doing just that; giving their bodies (and their fertility) to God. Our body is HIS temple, after all.
Yes, I have come far from that naive outlook of sex without boundaries. I have discovered that abstinence before marriage is a sacrifice...and that making sacrifices does not stop with matrimony. They are just a different kind. In fact, we should seek with every passing day to offer more and more of ourselves to God. As you slip the ring on and say "I do" you have not suddenly arrived at some plateau. You are just beginning an upward journey of faith.
CAME ABOUT IT BACKWARDS
I think the fact that I was pro-contraception when I started my studies makes the fact that I came to the totally opposite conclusion more believable. I was surprised by what I found out, but I couldn't ignore the truth. And like so many other issues that we are ignorant of (especially as youths), we are wont to accept the view that feels good to us, without taking time to do any research or defer to those who are older, and wiser.....and holier. Well, this time I didn't get away with an easy out. And now that I am a college grad, a devout Roman Catholic, 24 years old, married and expecting my first child, there's a lot more to this little essay now. I'm not saying I'm smarter now than I was before. Just the opposite is true. I have realized just how much God and His holy Church are to be relied upon, and in a way, that is the very heart of the contraception issue: faith and obedience to a higher authority not just in matters of law, but in matters of morality as well.
Why is it that Christians are afraid to let God into their bedrooms? They act as if it's their last stronghold, the one place where God is not going to impose more commandments. Letting God plan your family takes trust, but as Christians we are called to become as little children, obediently accepting whatever God sends our way, knowing that our Father knows best. Being open to life has been a constant teaching of the Catholic Church since her very beginnings, and the recent introduction of a method known as "Natural Family Planning" has not changed this teaching in the least. As Cardinal Ottaviani said in reference to the encyclical Humanae Vitae "I am not pleased with the statement in the text that married couples may determine the number of children they are to have. Never has this been heard of in the Church."
HOW MUCH IS YOUR FAITH WORTH?
Speaking about trusting in God to plan our families often causes more skeptical Christians (and sadly, even many Catholics) to scoff and accuse married couples of throwing the good sense that God gave them out the window. "We weren't meant to breed blindly like rabbits, but were given brains to put to good use. This includes making responsible family planning decisions."
Well I grant that God gave us brains and He sure as Hell (no pun intended) wants us to use them, but since when did using your head mean losing your faith? I dare any Christian to tell me that it's irresponsible to trust in divine providence. Was it irresponsible for Jacob to have so many sons? Do you think it struck Abraham as sensible to tie his son up to be slaughtered like a sacrificial lamb? Of course not. But faith does not question God's design. The "sensible" Isrealites surely thought twice about wandering through the desolate wilderness with their families for years, relying only upon one man for their wellbeing. But Moses had faith in God's plan, even though he often lived from moment to moment, but constantly in obedience to God. Faith does not question the Father's methods.
Perhaps you think these are unfair comparisions, after all, Abraham and Moses were following direct commands from God, and of course no godly man would question that. But God never commanded married couples to dispense with contraception. Actually, yes He did. In the very first book of the Holy Scriptures, one of God's very FIRST commands to Adam and Eve is to be fruitful and multiply. I don't know how much plainer He could have been. This is a classic example of Christians ignoring a blatant statement in Scripture, just as they have done in trying to justify homosexuality and divorce, though God was quite emphatic. Scripture further confirms in numerous passages the blessings of children, extolling the man who has many and calling him blessed. These Scriptural teachings were confirmed and mirrored consistently by the early Church, and we find BOUNTIFUL evidence for this teaching in the writings of myriads of Church Fathers. The Catholic Church alone has preserved this vital teaching, even into the twentieth century, when mainline Protestants, beginning with the Anglican churches, abandoned their condemnation of artificial contraception. How something can go from being morally wrong to morally acceptable in mere decades is a mystery to me.
NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING - THE RHYTHM METHOD IMPROVED
I mentioned Natural Famiy Planning previously. Just what is it? Ever heard of the Rhythm Method? Of course you have. It's the one people make jokes about because it can be notoriously unreliable, especially when one compares it's results to the dazzling statistics garnered by the likes of implants and birth control pills. Well, let's get one thing straight. The Catholic Church was not trying to win any medical medals of achievement by sanctioning the Rhythm Method. It was always meant to be used as a last resort anyway, when couples found some grave reason (and I would emphasize grave because the conditions are strict) to postpone a pregnancy. The Catholic Church deemed only the Rhythm Method to be a morally acceptable option, as it worked within the natural law, by monitoring a woman's fertile and infertile times.
Natural Family Planning is merely the new and improved Rhythm Method. I say this, not to disguise the fact that NFP differs from Rhythm, but because the principle remains the same. This is why I said earlier that science's introduction of a more accurate and reliable method did not change the Church's stance in any shape form or fashion. Like the Rhythm Method, NFP is to be employed only when married couples have GRAVE reason to avoid a pregnancy. Sadly, many well-meaning Catholics treat Natural Family Planning as their family planning method, no matter what the familial circumstance. And this, as Ottaviani pointed out, is not the traditional Catholic mindset. Just because the method was refined doesn't mean we can push God aside and say "Ok, we can handle it now." On the contrary. Science beefed up the Ryhthm Method, but it certainly did not change an infallible Church teaching. When Catholics start using NFP just like any other birth control method, they have a hard time defending themselves against critics who rightly claim "you're still contracepting - what's the difference?" ATTITUDE makes the difference. An attitude of abandonment to divine providence. And couples regularly using Natural Family Planning have lost this essential attitude. Sure, the method itself is morally acceptable, but it has its place, and a limited use. The attitude of the heart is what truly matters in God's eyes.
So just why did the Catholic Church approve the Rhythm Method, and more recently, it's cousin - Natural Family Planning?
An accurate definition given by Carlyn Iuzzolino reads, "Natural Family Planning...refers to the practice of achieving or avoiding pregnancies according to an informed awareness of a couple's changing fertility" (1-2). This is accomplished by monitoring the woman's body temperature, mucosal secretions and changes in the cervix around the time of ovulation.
Study after study shows that the natural method, if used properly, can be just as effective as artificial methods of contraception, and has absolutely no side effects. But we shouldn't be surprised at that fact because Scripture not only tells us that God's law is good, but that it is good for us. In this case, natural birth control, as given by God, benefits both marriage partners spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. In my studies I found no other method that delivers these results or that can make such bold claims.
Many Christian couples use birth control without stopping to weigh their decision. They are buying into the modern idea that we have the right to do with our bodies as we choose and that married couples most certainly are allowed unlimited sexual freedom. But are these ideals truly Christian? Is the use of artificial contraceptives morally right? Based on Scriptural teaching and the ideals of Christian marriage, the Natural Family Planning method (hereafter referred to as NFP) is the only form of birth control that is compatible. A semantic exception to this rule would be the concept of natural spacing children by doing exclusive, extended breastfeeding. More information on this "ecological breastfeeding" or "natural mothering" can be found in the Kippley's book Breasteeding and Natural Child Spacing. Don't let a nurse or doctor tell you that breastfeeding is unreliable. They are referring to the way Western women tend to nurse, which is certain to spell an early return of fertility. Done the natural way, though, nusring can be very effective "birth control" and there are studies to back this up.
THE THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE AND SEXUALITY
First of all, it would be helpful to recall God's plan for marriage and sexuality. In Genesis He creates male and female in His image and bestows on them the stewardship of the earth. As husband and wife, Adam and Eve "become one flesh," which can be interpreted several ways. They are one in their unity as husband and wife and they are physically joined together in the consummation of their marriage. With the birth of their sons, Cain and Abel, we can see that the joining of egg and sperm will produce one new life, completely unique and individual. The NFP method, unlike the condom which is a barrier method, in no way frustrates the physical union between husband and wife. They are able to completely give themselves to each other and this deepens their sense of marital commitment, both physically and emotionally. It would be inconsistent to give yourself freely to your spouse in every aspect except the sexual act.
One of the major objections to the natural method is that periodic abstinence causes unnecessary strain and irritability. However, the majority of couples who use the NFP method report positive results for their relationships with God and with their spouse. Why is this? Janet Smith attributes it to the fact that "as spouses learn to communicate their affection in nongenital ways, and as they learn to master their sexual desires, they find a new liberation in the ability to abstain from sexual intercourse" (36). In our modern society we feel entitled to instant gratification, and the thought of denying ourselves of something is a preposterous idea. Self-control has been taught and encouraged by the Cristian church for centuries, however, and the life of Christ provides for us an ideal example of fasting and self-denial. Not only is periodic abstinence beneficial to spiritual growth, but many couples find that it brings a new feeling of romance and intimacy to their marriage, where previously the sexual act had been the dominant form of physical expression. Adding to this, the husband and wife tend to find that "an element of excitement accompanies the reuniting" (Smith 36).
By doing without couples learn to more fully appreciate the gift that God has given them in sexuality and are reminded that "single people and especially those vowed to celibacy live every day of the year without this gift" (MIT1). Another positive aspect of the NFP method is that by abstaining from intercourse during marriage, many parents find that they can more easily discourage their children from pre-marital sex. Many young adults might inwardly think, "How can they expect me to abstain? They can have sex anytime they want." However, in talking with teenagers about abstinence, parents can point to the fact that even they, as a married couple, are capable of refraining from intercourse, and that one's sexual desires can be controlled. Not only does Natural Family Planning give validity to our example as parents, but it makes our Christian witness more credible to the world. Consider this example:
"One man told me that his practice of NFP assisted him in being a good witness for chastity among the young men at his place of work. They would tease him about being able, as a married man, to have sex on demand, but he responded that through the use of NFP, he was required to abstain periodically. He argued that if, night after night, he was able to sleep beside the woman he loved and not have sexual intercourse with her, they could learn to refrain from sexual intercourse
with their girlfriends" (Smith 36).
Keep in mind that the Church has allowed periodic abstinence in marriage, but only for a short time, such as for prayer or fasting (or in this case, avoiding a pregnancy for just cause). If abstaining becomes too difficult for either or both of the partners, they should resume sexual relations lest their abstinence become an occasion for sexual sins like lust or masturbation. Furthermore, since the sexual act is such a sacred and beautiful thing, the Catholic Church has always encouraged spouses to share this blessing as often as possible. And when God deigns to bless the union with a child, they are thrice blessed.
But back to the concept of natural family planning methods. In our modern society, so-called "natural" living has become fashionable, as consumers are favoring herbs over pills and cotton over polyester. Products ranging from shampoo to bottled water have drawn quite a following from their utilization of wholesome, natural ingredients. Well, why don't we consider natural methods of birth control as well? One obvious benefit of the NFP method, which especially appeals to Christians, is the way it fits into the natural reproductive cycle God established. When He fashioned the world, God "in His infinite wisdom, created natural cycles within nature to keep it in balance" (MIT 1). In looking at His creation, which included the reproductive cycles of women, God called it "good." The NFP method works within the natural structure of reproduction, acknowledging that women experience cycles of fertility and infertility. While some opponents of NFP claim that the pleasure of intercourse is disregarded in favor of procreation, we can see from the Genesis story that sex in marriage serves not only for procreation and unity, but for physical pleasure as well. Why else would God have ordained that women be infertile at specific times in their cycle? Clearly, God in His goodness ordained times for a married woman to engage in sexual intercourse without the possibility of conception. Couples may use this knowledge to assist them in the rare event that a pregnancy would pose a grave threat (i.e. financially, physcially, etc.).
The Song of Solomon beautifully portrays the physical expression of love between a man and woman, and Proverbs 5 tells the husband to "rejoice in the wife of your youth; let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love." Clearly, Scripture does not condemn intercourse for it's pleasurable aspects. God attached pleasure to many of the activities that we engage in, such as eating, drinking and sleeping. While pleasure is not the express purpose of these acts, it certainly indicates that God in His goodness, wanted us to enjoy them. To say that pleasure is the main purpose of sex can have disastrous results, as can be seen from the current situation in American society. Since sex has nothing to do with love, commitment or family, it has become a selfish act in which two people use each other for fleeting pleasure. It's no wonder that today's women often complain of being treated like sex objects. But what do we expect when take sexuality out of its good and natural context?
Why we persist in ignoring what God has to say about sex is beyond me, for He is the designer and understands not only the act better than we do, but our own bodies. God is the ultimate creator, the ultimate life-giver, and when man and woman intimately share the act of marriage, they mirror their heavenly Father, who creates out of love for all eternity.
To paraphrase Dr. Janet Smith from her lecture "Contraception, Why Not?" we should be able to distinguish the difference between the statements "I want to have sex with you," "I want to make love to you," and "I want to have a baby with you." The first statement is selfish because sex is treated merely as a means to an end. The speaker might just as well say "I want to use your body to derive pleasure." In that case, it doesn't matter who is in your arms, since pleasure is all that counts. The second statement may sound good at first, but there is no promise or commitment attached to the sexual act. "Making love" might come prepackaged with some pretty powerful emotions, but outside the marital bond it does not carry the promise of eternity.
The third statement "I want to have a baby with you" is profound but simple. Having a baby entails a lifetime commitment. It means midnight feedings, trips to the pediatrition, going without to provide for the child's needs, and attending baseball games and PTA meetings. It means that a man and woman have committed themselves forever to God, each other and their future offspring. It is in this beautiful context that sex finds its true fulfillment. Now the spouses are truly giving everything they have to each other.
A COMPARISON OF BIRTH CONTROL METHODS
I want to briefly discuss the most common forms of artificial birth control being used today, and weigh the positives and negatives. Oral contraceptives, namely the Pill, use hormones such as estrogen and progestin to stop ovulation and thicken the mucus that lines the cervix. Estrogen prevents ovulation, or the release of an egg, while progestin makes it difficult for the sperm to penetrate and reach the uterus by thickening the cervical mucus. Oral contraceptives also employ a third "back-up" mechanism, in case of breakthrough ovulation. This third mechanism of the Pill can be abortive in that it reduces the likelihood of implantation of newly conceived child (blastocyte). A quick look at the package insert for any oral contraceptives on the market today will prove this point. Most inserts typically will describe this third method by saying that the Pill "changes the endometrium (uterine lining) which reduces the likelihood of implantation." They will not tell you that it is abortive. Neither will most doctors, either from ignorance or from a fear of losing their clientele. There is a lot of money to be made in the contraception industry. For some physicians, the Pill can constituate as much as 75% of their sales.
Oral contraceptives such as the Pill are not only abortive, but they basically put the female reproductive system in disorder, obviously contrary to what God had in mind when He created the woman's body. Also disturbing is the idea that natural processes such as the release of sperm and egg cells should be prevented. God designed our bodies, both male and female, to work in certain ways. During intercourse between two healthy adults, the sperm is meant to reach the uterus without interruption.
This brings me to contraceptives commonly called "barrier methods." The condom, one might argue, does not interfere with a woman's natural processes. However, not only do condoms put a physical barrier between the partners and prevent the husband from fully giving himself, but many also contain spermicides which kill sperm cells and help to block the cervix. I am not arguing that "every sperm is sacred," but once again, everything in the human body has a purpose. The heart pumps blood and the white blood cells fight infection. In God's natural order, sperm cells are meant to be released during intercourse and enter the woman's body. In the Old Testament, we see that God punishes a man called Onan who allows his seed to spill away from his body, instead of into his partner's body. This grave sin was recognized by the Fathers of the Church, so much that it was given the name "Onanism." The condom basically treats sperm cells as a foreign substances, things that must be removed, instead of as a natural component of the sexual act. For a society that claims to be so sexually knowledgeable, we very often miss some very basic aspects of human sexuality!
Additionally, condoms lessen sexual pleasure for the man, and cause an interruption of the sex act. Furthermore, the responsibility of birth control is placed on the man's shoulders, when such responsibility should be shared by both partners. Finally, the use of condoms belies an unacceptable closed-mindedness to life. To paraphrase Pope Paul VI's words in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, every sexual act must be open to life. Couples using condoms are deliberately thwarting the procreative purpose of sex, even if only for a time.
Another barrier method is available through the use of Intra-Uterine devices (IUD's), copper or plastic-covered devices which are inserted into the uterus by a doctor. IUD's, like the Pill, prevent implantation (and can therefore be abortive), and quite often contain progestin, whose affects I have discussed before. The diaphragm is a rubber dome-shaped object that blocks the vagina to prevent sperm from entering the cervix. Here again, it is natural that the sperm enter the woman's body, and again we are putting an unnecessary barrier between the two partners.
Norplant was widely popular for birth control at one time, and consists of small plastic rods inserted in a woman's upper arm which release the hormone progestin. It's affects, as stated before, very often border on being abortive, as if putting the woman's cycle in disorder isn't enough. In recent years, numerous women have filed lawsuits against the makers of Norplant and this has been brought to the attention of the FDA. For this reason, I doubt doctors would be quick to prescribe this method.
Depo-Provera is a hormone injection given every twelve weeks to prevent the release of eggs. Because of it's 99% effectiveness, DP is becoming very popular as a reversible form of birth control. It's results, like the other artificial methods, however, are less than ethical. It should be mentioned that the so-called "emergency contraceptive pill" is also becoming increasingly popular for women. The Christian should be aware that pills such as this are blatantly abortive because they may prevent a fertilized egg (if one is present) from implanting, thus keeping a new human life from developing. One remaining method of birth control, known scientifically as "coitus interruptus" involves "withdrawal" before ejaculation. The name says it all; who would want to interrupt sex? And not only does this method require much self-control on the man's part, but it frustrates the true unity between husband and wife, as discussed earlier. In addition, a great strain is placed on the male in that he must be the one to take full responsibility for the prevention of pregnancy.
One very obvious physical benefit of the NFP method is that out of all the above-mentioned practices, it has absolutely NO side effects. Even the condom (which lessens sensitivity for the male) can cause allergic reactions, while the withdrawal technique has the potential to cause disorders in sexual functioning. In addition, many of the "side-effects" that stem from a couple's use of artificial and barrier-method contraceptives are just not physically, but emotionally and physcologically damaging as well. Some well-known side effects of the Pill include (but are not limited to) nausea, weight gain, mood swings, fatigue, and risk of liver disease. IUD's tend to cause heavy and more extended periods and can also lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, ectopic pregnancies, allergic reactions, perforation of the uterine wall and embedding of the device in the uterine lining.
The unpleasant list goes on for other popular methods of birth control. Norplant's side effects include weight gain, headaches, sore breasts, nausea, mood swings, acne and changes in the menstrual cycle. Depo-Provera can also cause weight gain, headaches, sore breasts and depression, as well as bloating and changes in menstrual bleeding. The emergency contraceptive pill, besides causing severe flu symptoms, nausea and vomiting, has long term effects on health that are yet unknown. After reading list after list of unpleasant side effects, I seriously question why women subject themselves to these discomforts. Have we struck a blow for womanhood by making ourselves sexually available to men, while bearing the burden of birth control alone? With so many negative side effects, it's a wonder that these women even feel like engaging in sexual intercourse!
Dr. Janet Smith jokes that since the Pill basically fools a woman's body into thinking she's pregnant, then guess what you're going to end up with when the "pregnancy hormones" kick in? A cranky, moody, bloated woman with decreased libido who may put on a couple of pounds and then bite your head off if you say the wrong thing. Is this what you would call every man's sexual fantasy?
Ironically, in her address to the USFDA, Eleanor Smeal described the members of the Feminist Majority as "women's health advocates" and said she worried that without access to the RU 468 pill, American women would "suffer needlessly" (1-2) What about the damaging affects of most artificial birth control methods on women? Is the Feminist Majority concerned with the health of women where contraceptives are concerned? Or perhaps, to be consistent with her concern for women, Smeal should encourage the NFP method of birth control, not only because of its safety where female health is concerned, but because of its benefits for both partners as well. We should question the motives of American feminists where artificial contraceptives are concerned. If they are really women's health advocates then why don't they warn other females that every package insert for contraceptive pills admits that the effects of long-term use of low-dose oral contraceptives is still undetermined?
Don't be fooled either when feminists say they champion "reproductive rights." How many feminists do you see reproducing, or encouraging other women to do so? They are either killing babies or preventing them from even being conceived. I'Il guarantee you it's not about the freedom to reproduce at all. These women want to maintain their right to abort babies and prevent pregnancies. The more proper term would be "counter-reproductive rights."
It is interesting to note that every method of birth control mentioned here, excluding withdrawal and condoms, place the burden of responsibility on the woman alone. Contraceptives were supposed to liberate women, but instead they have enslaved them. How easy (and unfair) it is for the man to request that his spouse take the Pill. The responsibilities that come with sexual relations should be shared by both partners, otherwise, "women in a contraceptive marriage can be (and many are) manipulated into being mechanical sex objects" (MIT 1). The NFP method requires that both male and female share the responsibilities. What a powerful illustration for the equality of the sexes! The Feminist Majority should be at the forefront of the Natural Family Planning movement!
EFFECTS OF CONTRACEPTION IN SOCIETY
At this point, it would be interesting to look at the effects of contraceptives on our modern society. Smith notes that "There were fewer teenage pregnancies, fewer abortions, and a lesser incidence of sexually transmitted diseases before contraception became widely available" (34). Another recent study showed that the divorce rate among couples who practice artificial contraception is over 50%. For partners who choose the NFP method it comes as no surprise that the divorce rate is about 0.1%. This is not to say that artificial birth control is totally responsible, but the correlation is still remarkable. Many people in our modern society seek to separate the ties between sexuality and love in a relationship. Perhaps the before-mentioned studies suggest that a couple's "bedroom" relationship contributes much to the success of the marriage as a whole. That is why the use or non-use of contraceptives is such an importance decision to make for committed married couples.
To prove the effectiveness and reliability of the natural method, a study was carried out in 12 different countries with 17,525 couples who used NFP. The highest rate of pregnancy occurred at 2.9% and the method's overall effectivenes came to 91%. Compared to the most common forms of artificial contraceptives, NFP can certainly hold its own.
It's important to realize, however, that when any method of "birth control" does fail despite the high percentages, the newly conceived child must be regarded as a gift from God. The beauty and worth of children is a consistent theme which is found throughout Scripture. Some couples may scoff at the natural method's effectiveness in comparision to other alternatives, but the Christian does not regard an unexpected conception as a crisis or burden, as much of modern America does. Again, having an attitude of openness to life assures that every child will be welcomed. Couples with a contraceptive mentality seem to live in a constant state of anxiety due to a fear of pregnancy. But when Mother Theresa arrived in America, she held a little child in her arms and asked "Why are they so afraid of you?"
For Christian married couples, the issue of contraception is an important one for the simple reason that every aspect of our life should reflect God's teaching. We Americans covet our hard-won sexual freedom, but we must humbly submit to Divine Law, and acknowledge that the Church has every right to enter the bedroom. Her wisdom is infinite and we are finite.
ONLY ONE CHOICE
When couples must resort to preventing a pregnancy, the Natural Family Planning method stands alone in that it preserves faithfully the ideals of marriage and upholds God's plan and purpose for sex. It's benefits are almost too numerous to repeat. NFP "develops a couple's respect for fertility, and for each other, as they grow in the knowledge of each other and of the gift of fertility" (NACF 1). It has no side effects and can be used both to prevent or achieve pregnancy. Also, because of the close and constant physiological monitoring of the woman's body, many reproductive and/or fertility problems are more likely to be detected in their early stages.
One of my co-workers at a past job had a sign hanging in her office that said 10% of life is what happens to us, and 90% is our attitude towards it. As a Catholic, I will go even further. God calls us to be perfect. He wants our attitude to be 100% faith-filled no matter what. Trust in Him to be the best family planner you could ever have. If God sends you one child, bless Him and thank Him and know that He is in control of things. If He sends you ten children, bless Him and thank Him and trust that He will care for each and every one. Does He not feed and clothe even the lowly lilies of the field? How much more will He lovingly care for you and your family? Remember that God does not just give life to each soul. He gives us life abundantly.
NOTE FROM AUTHOR:
This was adapted and updated from an ethics paper I wrote while attending Belhaven college in 1998, and I continue to update it frequently. If you would like to get a copy of my sources for this paper, just send me an email. There are also a number of interesting and helpful links relating to Natural Family Planning at the bottom of this page. Thank you for taking time to read my thoughts on this subject. I pray you will do what is right. God will reward your faith and obedience. When you trust in Him you will have nothing to fear.
- Anne Marie Sweden
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