NFP: When Is It Permissible to Avoid Pregnancy?
On Facebook, I’m in several Natural Family Planning (NFP) groups, and the same question pops up on a regular basis: “What reasons justify using NFP to avoid pregnancy, according to the teaching of the Church? Is there a list?”
I’ve scoured encyclicals, papal letters and addresses, and several scholarly tomes on the subject, I’m confident that I can provide the list of reasons, sanctioned by the Catholic Church, in which a couple may licitly use NFP to avoid pregnancy. Here is the list:
You can stop highlighting now — that space is intentionally blank.
Why? Because there is no list. The Catholic Church does not have one for a reason.
- The Church provides guidelines, and leaves the actual reasons up to the individual couple’s discernment.
- The Church has not outsourced the job of compiling a list to Catholic bloggers.
- The Church does not require that the couple consult a priest, deacon, or other spiritual director. Although, it’s always a wise idea to discuss one’s discernment process with a faithful spiritual director or orthodox, holy priest, it’s not required for couples to do so in order to use NFP to avoid pregnancy and remain in good standing with the church.
- The Church does not require that couples adhere to a faulty translation of Humanae Vitae when engaging in their discernment.
- The Church does not now, nor has She ever, considered NFP a heresy. For anyone who wants to challenge me on that point, please read the linked article first, and then you can explain to me why you oppose the teachings of Blessed Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Benedict XV, and Pope Pius XI (among others). Also, please don’t take any quotes from St. John Vianney’s “The Cure’D’Ars” out of context.
- The Church does not now nor has She ever stated that Catholics who allegedly use NFP for frivolous reasons as having a “contraceptive mentality.” As a point of fact, it is ontologically impossible for NFP to be contraceptive, or used in a contraceptive manner. Pope St. John Paul II, when speaking of the world’s contraceptive mentality, was not speaking about faithful Catholics who use NFP to avoid pregnancy. He was speaking of people (Catholic or otherwise) who use contraception.
Read more here.
Good article, except, I still think a huge problem with the Catholic debate over when “NFP can be used” is largely based on calling it NFP. By calling it Family Planning, we are semantically connecting what would more accurately be called menstrual cycle charting (Please see the wikipedia article on what the menstrual cycle is) with periodic abstinence. This view of combining the two makes it a birth control method, making it semantically difficult for us to distinguish it from contraceptives.
The fact that we delay education in this sort of menstrual charting till a couple is engaged or already married further illustrates how we view the charting and abstinence so unified that we view charting as a birth control method — even when we insist it’s not. And this further leads to constant debates over the morality of it’s use. The ultra conservatives will continue to point to the fact that we’re playing a semantics game and thus argue “Look. It’s birth control. Therefore it’s wrong!” This leaves the rest of us to basically argue, “But it can’t be immoral because the Church approves it. Therefore it must not be birth control.”
If we are willing to recognize that the Rhythm Method was not defined by it’s simplistic chart until we started insisting we needed to distance ourself from it’s reputation by calling the symptom based methods by another name (NFP), then it becomes clearer what the Church teaches.
a method of avoiding conception by which sexual intercourse is restricted to the times of a woman’s menstrual cycle when ovulation is least likely to occur.
It doesn’t matter how we’re trying to figure out when we’re fertile. We could be determining our fertility by the most inaccurate tea leaf reading method possible. But the reality is, whether successful or not, Catholic birth control is and always has been abstinence.
When the Anglican Lambeth Council of 1930 “ok’ed” contraceptives under specific circumstances, the view was always one of contraceptives or abstinence. The Church did not talk about the Rhythm method because the Rhythm method, oddly enough, was only developed that year and wasn’t very well known.
The Church didn’t officially approved Rhythm in the 50’s, though priests and theologians did often advise laity that it fit with Catholic moral teaching before that period.
Regardless, the point to gain from this is that the Church has continually gone in the direction of both affirming that abstinence is the only legitimate form of birth control, all while promoting a growth in understanding of our reproductive systems so that we can more effectively use abstinence in a manner that puts the least strain on our marriages. So, while Georgetown University modified the Rhythm Calendar Method by coming up with the Standard Days method, the method is simply too restrictive bot in who can effectively use in and in the number of days it allows for a couple to engage in sex. In fact, the secular groups that promote it advocate using barrier methods, not abstinence.
Your chart is just a chart. It’s information, not birth control. Knowledge is not sinful. Thus, Catholic birth control is practised on a month to month basis and is simply the decision of abstaining or not abstaining. And I would say the best way to practice this is to chart constantly, regardless of intentions. You’re indifferent to getting pregnant? Chart away and don’t both to pressure yourself to use the fertile period or infertile days. Be as spontaneous as you want. You’re sick of waiting to get pregnant? Okay, than be deliberate about having sex on your fertile day. You discern that you should hold off on pregnancy? Okay, then abstain.
The benefit of the fertility chart goes so much beyond this. If my husband gets laid off while I’m in my lutael phase, we can look at my chart and discern our chance of finding out we’re pregnant that month. There’s less anxiety over waiting for that missed period. You can look at your chart and emotionally and mentally prepare for what chance of pregnancy you have that cycle. You don’t have to wait for that missed period or that positive pregnancy test. You can know “Ok, more likely to get pregnant. Let’s start discussing how we’re going to handle our situation now if I turn up pregnant.” or “Okay, probably not going to get pregnant. With that in mind, here are my thoughts. What do you think, hubby?”
Heck, since I also know better when I’ve ovulated, a late period caused by a delay in ovulation is no sweat!So the chart isn’t even simply about planning to have sex or not. The chart helps you to know what plans you ought to be making in your life. It helps you to better roll with the punches life throws at you. It’s like logging onto your bank account’s website or mint.com and looking at what’s currently in your bank account, what your past spending decisions have been and what your habits are. It can influence you in future purchases or motivate you to start looking for a better paying job or whatever. But overall, it’s JUST information to help you make more prudent decisions.There’s nothing sinful in that. I’ll write more specifically about why we tend to worry about this and how this relates to Catholics stereotypically having negative views on sexuality on a later date.