Jeevan Jal Ministries
 
  Pro-Life Ministry

NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING - CHURCH'S STAND

Family Planning

Family Planning generally means having children by choice and it is possible not to have children when the parents do not want them for some valid reason. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is considered a moral means of following the teaching of the Church regarding birth regulation within marriage. It offers a life-style in which sexuality is respected and promoted in its true and fully human dimension (unitive and procreative) and in which a person is never used as an object. With NFP, the couple lives out God's plan for marriage and sexuality through a total self giving, framed by dialogue, shared responsibility and self control.

Nowadays, whenever the subject of human love and marriage is discussed, family planning is soon mentioned. It is a widely held belief that one of the most serious problems to be solved by young people getting married, is that of preventing children arriving too soon or in too great a number. This attitude is altogether wrong. It is a kind of mental sickness in society which creates problems that ought never to have existed.

For every hundred who marry, ten will never be able to have any children, so they certainly do not have the problem of avoiding pregnancy. The peak of human fertility is usually between 20 and 25 years, with a gradual decline thereafter, the decline becoming much steeper after the age of 35. Once the age of 40 has been reached about 50 per cent of marriages have become sterile. There are some married couples whose fertility was high enough for conception in the first few years of married life, but who lost their chance of having children through postponing their effort to do so until the natural decline of fertility had brought it below a level at which conception was impossible.

Very often the avoidance of pregnancy in the early years of married life, whatever the means adopted, imposes a serious strain upon the marriage. The marriage may survive it, or it may not.

If young people could be persuaded to marry with a willingness and eagerness to follow their natural inclination in their love making, and to leave to Almighty God the decision as to whether they will have children immediately or not, there would be many more stable and happy marriages in the community than there are at present. Family Planning would be recognised as being only a temporary expedient for the majority, to be applied when sexual maturity and harmony in living together make its acceptance easy for both the husband and wife.

Occasionally, some serious problem, usually of a medical nature, makes the avoidance of pregnancy very desirable or even imperative .

Children are a gift and a great treasure for their parents. However, if pregnancies come too close together, it may be harmful to the health of the mother and of the children. Moreover, if the family is poor, frequent childbirth may create financial problems and the mother may not be able to give enough time to each child. This is why spacing childbirth is important to the family.

Natural Family Planning is planning either to achieve or prevent pregnancy by timing of the marital act. By observing and recording certain natural symptoms and bodily changes that occur in a woman's menstrual cycle and using the information as a guide, a couple can learn to identify fertile and infertile phases in the menstrual cycle. If the couple wishes to achieve pregnancy, they can be aware of the best days for this to occur. If they wish to avoid pregnancy, they should abstain from, not only intercourse, but even genital contact during the fertile period.

"But isn't Abstinence a disadvantage"? is the question that easily arises.

On the contrary, according to many couples practicing NFP in various countries, periodic abstinence, often called periodic continence, has been found to have a rejuvenating effect on marriage.

Having intercourse on impulse can become routine and meaningless. By contrast, NFP couples get a periodic rest from intercourse. During this time, the husband and wife look forward to coital intimacy with eagerness and anticipation. Periodic continence, preserves the mystery and beauty of the sexual relationship and can relieve the subtle pressure for "sexual performance".

Also, the time of continence, gives the couple opportunities to express love for each other in non-genital ways. This assures the husband and wife that neither one is being used by the other. The NFP lifestyle helps to open new levels of communication and affection. "There is a season for everything … A time to embrace, a time to refrain from embracing" Ecc 3:1, 5. The Bible not only recognises the value of periodic abstinence, but in the Jewish cleanness regulations, it actually prescribes 14 days of abstinence beginning with menstruation (Leviticus 15: 19, 28).

Some say the marital act should be spontaneous

Spontaneity should not be confused with impulsiveness. For many couples, the use of contraceptives such as condoms, diaphragms and foams is inconvenient and unspontaneous. True spontaneity can be discovered within the NFP lifestyle.

The Natural Sequence

With natural methods of family planning, the act of sexual intercourse is normal and there is no interference of any kind with the normal biological mechanisms. It is for this reason that more and more people are developing a preference for a natural method, coming to see later, the less obvious evidence of the wisdom of their choice. Catholic teaching on the subject of birth control is, for the present, a minority opinion in the world. It has not always been a minority opinion and the time will come when it is not a minority opinion any more.

God in His infinite wisdom created women in such a fashion that during their reproductive years, they are more often infertile than fertile. A man is always fertile. The person who believes in God will conclude that there must have been some very sound purpose in His mind. The complex sequence of events which determines the occurrence of ovulation is such, that even when the woman ovulates more than once in a menstrual cycle, these ovulations are separated only by a matter of hours; there is only one ovulation day in any cycle. Allowing for the continuing nourishment of the husband's cells within the wife's body, there is only about a week, and usually less time, during each cycle when conception is possible. It is part of the natural order of God's creation that there are more days of infertility in the cycle than days of possible fertility, and so the couple is provided with considerable freedom for the expression of their conjugal love in sexual intercourse.

The Fertile Time

For the Catholic, the avoidance of pregnancy, if necessary, is achieved by the method of periodic continence i.e. the avoidance of intercourse at those times when conception may follow. The success of the method depends on the accurate charting of the infertile days. For many years the infertile days were predicted on the basis of the variations in the length of the menstrual cycles. This menstruation method or Rhythm Method, had the basic defect of all methods involving prediction, that the pattern on which the prediction was based might alter; in this instance, the menstrual cycles might suddenly change their length, and the prediction regarding infertile days would be incorrect. In addition, if allowance were made for considerable variation due to irregularity of the cycles, the days available for intercourse in each cycle became few in number.

Natural Methods

When used to avoid pregnancy, the Natural Methods of family planning involve complete abstinence from genital contact during the days of possible fertility. It involves self-restraint, especially on the part of the husband, and also a great deal of understanding during the time of abstinence. After the period of abstinence, the couple can return to the marital act with a newness. It is helpful to explain that the wife now has the opportunity to return the generous love her husband has given in his self-restraint for her good and the good of the family, by making a positive conscious effort to be attractive and to invite her husband to the physical act of love. The woman who loves her husband readily understands that he will respond immediately to this loving invitation. She will find great joy in his responsiveness and in her ability to satisfy all his physical and emotional needs. The infertile time is then awaited with joyful anticipation by both husband and wife, and their great awareness of each other can even enable them to experience a level of happiness hitherto unknown in their marriage. The application of the natural methods has promoted the development of greater communication and co-operation between them, virtues which are essential to the stability of marriage itself.

Respecting God's Creative Intent

Human fertility is a wonderful gift, enabling the husband and wife to share, by an act of love, in the creation of a new human life, a new, unique human being to live in God's family for eternity. This fertility is of primary importance in the gift which the husband and wife give to the other and accept from the other when they declare that henceforth there will not be two lives, but one life in common. The realisation of this truth motivates them to respect and protect their fertility, to understand and practice responsible parenthood.

It is not difficult to understand that the Creator, by providing days of infertility both before and after the fertile days, has provided for those circumstances when the couple, faced with medical, economic or other problems, should prudently postpone pregnancy, at least for the time being. Without suppressing or destroying their fertility, without distorting the marital act of love, they can continue to express and foster their love, in happiness with each other and with their children. The woman's reproductive cycle is a manifestation of God's creative intent at any particular time. During the days of pre-ovulatory and post-ovulatory infertility, it is God's will that coitus will not result in pregnancy, whereas during the fertile phase it is God's creative Will that an act of coitus can result in pregnancy. When there is a need to postpone pregnancy, the spouses find other ways to express their love during the fertile phase, not least by the sacrifice involved in the acceptance of abstinence from genital contact for the sake of the beloved person. There is total acceptance of God's will as it is demonstrated in human biology.

Benefits of Natural Family Planning

Now that it is becoming common knowledge that the modern methods of natural family planning have a level of effectiveness in the postponement of pregnancy which is not exceeded by any contraceptive or sterilising technique, there has developed a deeper insight into the beneficial effects of the use of a natural method upon the conjugal relationship. A better level of communication is achieved: deeper insights into each other's physical and emotional needs. The couple learns to look at their combined fertility and decide together what they will do, there is a sharing of responsibility in the achievement of the intended result. Most of all there is a demonstration of a willingness to accept the gentle discipline required, so that self-respect and love grow as both husband and wife observe in themselves and each other the goodness of which they are capable. Every human life becomes precious, especially the lives which may be the product of their love, and the child is restored to its rightful place at the centre of concern within the family.

As Pope John Paul II said in 'Familiaris Consortio':

"The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, i.e. the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognise both the spiritual and physical character of conjugal communion, and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context, the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality, in its physical dimension also" (N.32).

Pope Paul VI taught us in 'Humanae Vitae' that the discipline of natural family planning "bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favours attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility" (N21).

On June 5, 1987, at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II received in audience, the participants in a Study Conference on responsible procreation, sponsored by the Centre for Studies and Research on the Natural Regulation of Fertility of the Department of Medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. In the course of his address, the Holy Father said:

"Not withstanding the difficulties you may encounter, it is necessary to continue with generous dedication. The difficulties you encounter are of various kinds. The first, and in a certain sense the most serious, is that even within the Christian community, voices have been heard, and are still being heard, which cast doubt upon the very truth of the Church's teaching. This teaching has been vigorously expressed by Vatican II, by the Encyclical 'Humanae Vitae', by the Apostolic Exhortation 'Familiaris Consortio' and by the recent Instruction 'The Gift of Life'. A grave responsibility derives from this: those who place themselves in open conflict with the law of God, authentically taught by the Church, guide spouses along a false path. The Church's teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of "matter open to free discussion" among theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral consciences of spouses into error.

The second difficulty is constituted by the fact that many think that the Christian teaching, though true, is yet impracticable, at least in some circumstances. As the Tradition of the Church has constantly taught, God does not command the impossible, but every commandment also carries with it a gift of grace which assists human freedom in fulfilling it. However, there is need for constant prayer, frequent recourse to the Sacraments and the exercise of conjugal chastity.

Obstacles to accepting NFP

"Perfect love casts out fear" according to St. John (1 Jn 4: 18) and the opposite is also true, fear can cast out love. How often teachers of natural family planning have heard, " I'd like that, but I don't think my husband would. I wouldn't even dare ask him!".

What is this which a woman is afraid even to mention to her spouse? Periodic abstinence. Sexual self-control. Not giving in to sexual urges whenever they arise. Being different in a sexually satiated society. Developing the virtue of marital chastity to control sexual aggressiveness and selfishness. Placing sex at the service of authentic marital love.

Sexual self-control inevitably involves some difficulty and for some it may be the daily cross that Jesus told us we must carry as the cost of discipleship. However, the Christian is called to let his love for God overcome his instinctive fear of sacrifice.

There is also a fear of failure that must be overcome. Some people fear that they will fail to understand how to make NFP work for them, others fear that the method will fail them. On the first count, it is reassuring to know that the poorest of the poor in Calcutta are practicing NFP successfully and that there are teachers of NFP throughout the world who are ready and willing to assist learning couples in every way. The greatest way to overcome this fear of failure is through increased trust in God, and that is not easy. With NFP, a couple learns the mutual fertility God has given them and exercises the Divine gift of sexual self-control when avoiding pregnancy. Then, having done their best to keep God's laws, they trust that if they should experience a rare surprise pregnancy, His Providence will take care of them.

NFP versus Contraception:

NFP

CONTRACEPTION

1

Works alongwith nature.

1.

Works against nature.

2.

No side effects or adverse effects. It is safe.

2.

A number of side effects which are harmful. It can be very dangerous.

3.

It respects the human body and the fertility aspect.

3.

It goes against fertility interfering with the natural process and the changes in the human body.

4.

NFP encourages and builds the bond of love between spouses.

4.

Contraception encourages urge intercourse and the marital act is not necessarily an experience of love between the spouses.

5.

NFP can be used to postpone, as well as, achieve pregnancy.

5.

Contraception is used only to thwart pregnancy and at times even life i.e. through early abortion.

6.

NFP cherishes self denial and self sacrifice.

6.

Contraception makes one selfish and self centered.

 

 

 


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