What prompts this post is the fact that this week is NFP Awareness Week, an annual event that occurs each year during the week of the anniversary of Pope Paul VI's promulgation of what was to be his last encyclical, Humanae Vitae- 25 July 1968.
It is widely held that this was Paul VI's last encyclical letter, which is probably the most authoritative form of the ordinary exercise of the papal magisterium in our time, because of the waves of dissent and resistance unleashed against it, especially among theologians of a certain school, but also by many priests and even some bishops. One would think that given all the notoriety this issue is receiving due to the show-down between the Church and the Obama Administration over the unjust HHS mandate, this week would be made more well-known this year, but, for whatever reasons, it is not.
One important distinction that I feel compelled to reiterate just about every time I write, teach, speak, or preach on Natural Family Planning is the necessary distinction between "birth control" and "contraception." The Church is not opposed to the former, even holding that it is a moral responsibility for married couples, but holds that the latter is intrinsically evil, objectively disordered, something that is always wrong. Birth control is an end, contraception in one means to that end, an immoral one. After all, ends do not justify means.
One fact that is frequently overlooked is the frequency of contraceptive failure, even for married couples (my understanding is that it is even higher among young, unmarried people). The important take away from this is that too many people use various forms of contraception with a false sense of security. It is also important to be honest about the abortifacient potential of certain methods of contraception, as well as the deleterious long-term health effects use of these same methods have on women's health, as well as the recently surfaced environmental and unintended human effects of these chemicals, which, if Melinda Gates has her way, will be used by every poor woman on the planet. If you think I am exaggerating the scope of Gates' ambition, I direct you to the segment of Al Kresta's 18 July program for which Dr. Janet Smith, who is one of the foremost expositors of the Church's teaching on these matters, is the guest (see his website for podcast). What gives Kresta's treatment of this matter credibility is that uses Melinda Gates' own words, expressed in her recent, televised interview, as his starting point, posting links to that and other media sources on his website.
None of these empirical/instrumental reasons trump the truly human reasons for living the truth in this regard, but they can be a useful starting point. At end of the day, couples are certainly free to choose, the Church does not desire take away that freedom. Even with the HHS dust-up, the Catholic bishops of the U.S. are not seeking to outlaw, or ban, all contraceptives for everyone, they are just asking that they not be forced to violate Catholic teaching by being made to pay for them. Better information results in making better, in this case, better moral, decisions. Besides, a properly formed conscience requires a properly informed intellect.
There are two other things that I think bear mentioning. First, too many people still think NFP is the old rhythm method. It is not. There are various forms of NFP (i.e., the Billings Ovulation Method, the Sympto-thermal Method, which can be used alone, or along with Billings, and the Creighton Model). Secondly, the difficulty of learning and practicing NFP is typically exaggerated beyond all reason or reality. For most couples who practice NFP and "who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time" (HV, par. 10), all that is required is some periodic abstinence, which does not require heroic virtue. Let's not forget that Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity continue to have great success teaching NFP to poor women in India.
Teri Mann, in a very well-written and short post I read, NFP Awareness Week- About, noted the following:
If you’ve ever thought about investigating NFP, this is the perfect week to do so! As the BBC reported, a German study in 2007 found that the sympto-thermal method, the most common method of NFP in use today, is 99.4 percent effective when practiced correctly. Of course, unlike other methods of regulating birth, Natural Family Planning is not “set it and forget it.” But with a little bit of research, study, and training, you can enjoy the many benefits of NFP–including easier conception when you decide that the time is right to start or expand your familyI encourage everyone to go to the USCCB National NFP Awareness Week website.
UPDATE: This post was picked up and published on-line, by Il Sussidiario, where I am a contributor- US/ Natural Family Planning Awareness Week